Martyn Coutts

An inter-disciplinary artist from Melbourne who deals with interactive and mediated experiences.
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An inter-disciplinary artist from Melbourne who deals with live, interactive and mediated experiences.

Martyn Coutts’ work has appeared in theatres, galleries and public spaces throughout Australia and the Asia Pacific region as well as online. Coutts also creates media content and systems for many creative companies, and is a dramaturge for dance and interactive performance works.

I Think I Can is a key work of Coutts’, which he co-created with puppeteer Sam Routledge in collaboration with the Hills Model Railway Society. The work is a large-scale model railway with an online avatar community, set to be exhibited at Sydney’s Central Station, through the Art and About festival.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

A Fireman.

When did you know you would work in the arts?

I made a decision in Grade 10 to switch one of my electives from Advanced Maths to Drama. It’s weird to think about it – but I think subconsciously that was the moment.

How would you describe your work to a complete stranger?

That is a problem I always have because my practice is so diverse. I started as an actor, became a performance maker, then a video artist and most recently a dramaturge. My work usually revolves around the live and mediated body, both of the audience and the performer. The work also fuses multiple forms or disciplines, for example in my new work I Think I Can, we create a space in which video, puppetry, participation, online engagement and model trains come together in public space. 

Is there a mission to your work?

That is a really relevant question to me right now – I have a very strong interest in social issues and politics and for a long time have wondered why that hasn’t become a larger part of my work. For me creating an ‘issues based’ piece of performance usually ends up quite didactic or doesn’t have the desired effect, because the audiences you are speaking to often have the same opinion. And also I tend to be more interested in creating work that is an immersive and enveloping experience instead of a hard edged critique of local politics. 

I think the broader mission around my work is that cultural practice is important, that it is a key part of who we are as humans and that everyone has the right to participate in it and to enjoy it. Culture feels divided from peoples lives in Australia sometimes, often it is ‘something that you go and see over there in a theatre or gallery’, when actually it should be seen to be everywhere – urban art, phone apps, video games, fashion, graphic design, DJ’s – there is no division between us and culture.

What’s the first thing career related you usually do each day?

Yoga or a run around the park and after that answer emails – glamorous hey?

What’s the one thing – piece of equipment, toy, security blanket, – you can’t work without?

Well again – laptop and yoga mat are the things I always travel with. I like to work with a video camera when I am working alone as it is hard to see what I am doing. One thing that has become indispensable recently is the app Evernote which allows me to sync notes across all my computers and other devices  – this is really helpful to keep track of thoughts about projects or to save a website that is interesting. It has really replaced my paper notebook as my repository of information.

What gets you fired up?

Politics that negatively impact people’s human rights or the environment. I spend a lot of time yelling at the TV. 

What are the top three skills you need in this industry?

To be hardworking, 

To be a good communicator (listening and an ability to laugh help), and 

To be resourceful with limited resources.

How do you know when you missed the mark?

I can usually tell, it’s usually written on peoples faces.

Where do you plan to be in three years time? 

Hopefully I would have finished a Masters of Fine Art and be maybe living near a beach.

Coutts’ installation I Think I Can, will be exhibited in the City of Sydney’s collaborative art festival Art & About Sydney, which will run through Sydney from 20 September to 20 October.


For information about installations and events visit the Art & About Sydney website.

(Pictured: Martyn Coutts)
Melanie Sano
About the Author
Melanie Sano is an ArtsHub writer.