Exhibition: Marcus Coates – Vision Quest: A Ritual for Elephant & Castle, Unit 237, Upper Floor, Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre, Elephant & Castle, London, until April 26 2012
© Nick David
Elephant & Castle is not the sort of place to walk around at 2am but, on and off for the past three years, Marcus Coates has been doing just that. To make matters more dicey, he wore a silver suit and bore aloft a stuffed eagle.
Vision Quest is the newly unveiled project from this exciting artist and part-time shaman. And it sits alongside the documentation of earlier rituals in a Liverpool apartment block and the office of an Israeli mayor.
But for Vision Quest, his longest film to date, Coates puts himself on the line in ways unprecedented. A mystical persona, which was almost unwatchable behind the closed doors of a scouse council flat, is now loose on the mean streets of South London.
In a few years' time, it may be a safer proposition. This part of London is slated for demolition and, indeed, the film culminates with a monstrous wrecking claw at work on a block of flats while the artist, clad in horse’s head, crouches on the nearby rubble.
It is clear whose vision will prevail: not the kooky journey to the world of animal spirits, but the money-making scheme to upgrade this neighbourhood into yuppie apartments beyond the reach of local residents.
Perhaps grasping that Coates is on their side, no-one challenges his right to wander the estates of SE1 with a film crew and a raptor on a stick.
The eagle, he explains to a pair of youths, is his spirit guide. It follows him into the offices of Southwark Council and also the presence of a charismatic property developer who gives as good as he gets in a metaphysical brainstorm session.
At other times, Coates explains he needs to match himself against the environment, in a "physical way". This leads to powerful footage in which he shoulder charges garage doors and lies on the ground bubbling spit against the asphalt.
But his encounter with a counting dog with a bullet scar reminds us of the strangeness and danger of this part of London.
It all builds to an exciting sequence in which he holes up in a condemned building, to prepare himself for a ritual performance with the band Chrome Hoof.
Either he really is in a deep state of trance or he does a good impression of that. Such is the riddle of the practice for which Marcus Coates has made his name.
Certainly the results appear to come from the beyond. Backstage with a lager, he recounts his journey for local accomplice Ernie.
Swallows are said to have nested in his armpits and this bodes well. But only up to a point. The sad takeout of this film is that all the swallows in the world cannot stop what is widely seen as progress.
- Admission £5.95 from http://vision-quest.eventbrite.co.uk (booking essential). Screenings at 6.30pm, 8pm and 9.30pm Thursday-Sunday.
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