Small sculptural conundrums

Marcus Coates, Crucifixes for Various Amphibians, 2000

It was flicking though a book at the Grizedale Arts installation at Frieze Art Fair that alerted me to the existence of Marcus Coates’s Crucifixes for Various Amphibians, a simple but intriguing work made of lolly sticks, elastic bands and paper clips. At a time of year when I often get students to make work from a limited range of basic materials – with lolly sticks a popular choice – this was a real find. I’m always happy to come across work that backs up my assertion that art can be made of anything but what makes this work especially pleasing is quite how much Coates has managed to say with a couple of dozen lolly sticks and a few elastic bands and paper clips.

In part, what I like about the work is the way it invites a guessing game of which creatures each crucifix is intended for. But of course that leads on to the more disturbing idea of the structures in use which somehow talks – to me at least – about both the strange obsessions children often have with catching insects, or indeed amphibians, in the garden and keeping them in rudimentary homes made of jam jars and the thankfully only half-remembered awfulness of dissection in biology lessons.

For me it’s the entertainment value of the weird guessing game and the preposterousness of the idea that amuse me and will ensure that the work stays in my mind for a good while to come.

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