Critics’ Picks

View of “Josh Bitelli,” 2016.

View of “Josh Bitelli,” 2016.


Josh Bitelli

Cell Project Space
258 Cambridge Heath Road
April 29–June 12, 2016

In Josh Bitelli’s recent exhibition, “A Partition,” the artist has compressed the gallery with a false ceiling, rendering the ample space compact, claustrophobic. Snaking throughout is a white antibacterial curtain that bisects the room. In the western corner, two monitors are stacked, showing Bitelli’s video All Doors and No Exits, 2016. The work’s script, performed by health-care professionals, borrows from generic medical diagnostic texts and determines a set of prescriptive actions. As the artist’s camera shows his actors rehearsing over and over again, both image and sound begin to lose their coherence. The film becomes neurotic.

Despite the clinical content, Bitelli’s piece has its Lynchian moments, especially when its rigidity gives way to a strange material excess. Near the end, the actors continually depress the handle of a soap dispenser. No reason is given for this action. As more and more soap drains from it, the white foam engulfs the camera’s frame. Then, in a matter of seconds, this seemingly endless froth dissipates into transparent formlessness. This scenario unfolds as a kind of macabre theater in reverse—abjection run through a process of purification, making it entirely aseptic. Perhaps this is the overriding subject of the show, a work inaugurated by an act of separation—bodies and ideas are divided from one another but then suddenly collapsed and made permeable, suggested by the transmission of fluids from one state to another.