The two-channel video work Journey to the Lower World by British artist Marcus Coates is a high point in an exceptionally engaging exhibition closing today at Pitzer College Art Galleries in Claremont. (You can still see the video online.)
“Synthetic Ritual,” curated by the international team of Gabi Scardi and Ciara Ennis, gathers a group of artists hailing from L.A. to South Africa to Albania to Israel for an investigation of how faith and ritual manifest themselves in our daily lives — sports allegories, for example, figure prominently, as do more secular superstitions and remarkable behaviors.
At the intersection of those last two is the startling and unforgettable video by Coates. The set-up is: he's organized a meeting for residents of a low-income housing project in the UK who are facing eviction. Promising something like assistance in preventing or at least coping with this imminent disaster, he draws about a dozen attendees. He proceeds to don a full-size buck skin, attached to his body with clamps and belt, the stag's entire antlered head perched atop his own, and perform an elaborate series of shamanistic movements accompanied by an astonishing variety of guttural noises and some spitting, channeling the spirit of the animal for “guidance.” The reaction of the crowd both on screen and in the art gallery is a priceless mix of disbelief, laughter, and awe — but they, like we, can't stop soaking up Coates' awkward, amazing presence.
Synthetic Ritual closes today at 5 p.m. but you can still watch the video on the Saatchi Gallery website.