Pitzer Art Exhibit Explores Ritualized Behavior

Open through Dec. 9th, Pitzer College’s newest art exhibit entitled Synthetic Ritual is a must-see. Combining artists from around Los Angeles as well as from around the world, the exhibit consists of an amalgamation of media, from installations to constant-loop videos. At first glance, the overarching theme seems to be chaos, but with more observation it becomes clear that there is indeed a method to the madness.

The exhibit explores the intersection of ritualized behavior with personal and professional life, and focuses mainly on this intersection in relation to sport, religion, and artistic practice. The works on display isolate ritualistic and superstitious behaviors and practices, and in doing so bring out their inherent unsubstantiated qualities.

Carlin Wing, a current native of New York, has several works in Synthetic Ritual. Hitting Walls: In the Eye of the Beholder is a continuous video-loop, which is viewed through a hole in a white wooden box. The video records a squash ball being hit against the sides and back of a stark squash court wall. By eliminating the human element, the concept of a ball being thrown repeatedly against a wall is emphasized. Additionally, Wing is an internationally ranked squash player, lending a personal note to her work.

“I try to make work that pulls spatial and social histories out of things like squash courts, ceilings, and carpet patterns—things that people presume that they know everything about, or that they don’t believe merit much thought in the first place,” Wing said. She said she is also inspired by the architecture and gestures of both serious and frivolous play.

Wing’s Ball Portrait, #s 26, 28, 30, 31, 38 are also on display. They consist of six separate photographs of handmade balls against a black background. The balls are composed of materials like yarn and tape, and have a careworn aura about them. To me, they represented a feeling of comfort, like an old baby blanket. Wing also hopes that she can have a transformative effect on aspiring young artists.

“I love showing in college galleries because the audience is often young and in the process of trying to find their way into their own art practices,” she said. “The curators sometimes have a freedom not afforded to their counterparts at public institutions that have to worry a lot about bringing in big crowd.”

When asked what she hoped viewers would take away from her work, Wing cited experiences she’s had in the past.

“Every once in a while I see a show or a film that is so good it kicks me in the stomach and maybe knocks me off kilter a bit,” Wing said. Citing Ellen Gallagher’s exhibitionWatery Ecstatic at the ICA Boston in 2001 and Ulrike Ottinger’s 1989 film Johanna D’Arc of Mongolia as examples of these pivotal moments, Wing hopes that her work will do the same.

Another major component of the exhibition is Marcus Coates’s work Journey to the Lower World (2004), a video of the artist performing. He undergoes several rituals, including swaying while wearing antlers and a deer pelt and vacuuming vigorously in order to access the ‘lower world’ to commune with animal spirits. These actions are performed in the video before a crowd of confused members of a condemned British housing estate, who are clearly confused. A confounded viewer realizes after some time that the apparent nonsense itself is the point of the piece, and that many of the religious rituals we go through on a daily basis seem absurd to an observer lacking background.

“It’s a little weird,” chuckled Kathryn Brew PZ’12 after experiencing Journey to the Lower World.

Through the lens of the camera, Yoshua Okon captures a ritual self-healing action as appearing almost compulsive in his work entitled Parking Lotus. One of the first pieces in the exhibition, Parking Lotus is a photographic installation in which the men and women in the photographs were all security guards in stressful minimum wage positions that required no training. They were meditating in the lotus position during their half-hour lunch breaks in order to promote spiritual and physical well-being. The photographs are accompanied by the ‘Meditation Movement Manifesto’, which supports the spiritual welfare of security guards.

Synthetic Ritual overturned my preconceptions and made me look at superstition and ritual behavior in a whole new light. I highly recommend the experience to anyone who is interested in alternate forms of media, looking for inspiration, or simply searching for new ways to understand the little things that we all unknowingly do. Synthetic Ritual is open every day from noon to 5 p.m. at the Lenzner Gallery in Atherton Hall and the Nichols Gallery at Broad Center at Pitzer College.

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