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Josh Bitelli

CELL PROJECT SPACE
258 Cambridge Heath Road
April 29–June 12

View of “Josh Bitelli,” 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.

Andrew Witt

Sharon Hayes

STUDIO VOLTAIRE
1a Nelsons Row
April 15–June 5

View of “Sharon Hayes,” 2016.

As if stepping into a time-warped consciousness-raising session, you are confronted with five video projections of multiracial performers reading from feminist and lesbian newsletters distributed in Britain and the United States from 1955 to ’77. The videos are projected at different scales across a makeshift plywood hoarding that traverses the gallery; on the back of it are pasted pages from the aforementioned publications. Sharon Hayes unearthed this occasionally harrowing material from archives in London and Philadelphia. Had you lived at this wild frontier of political advocacy, she seems to ask, how would you have answered readers’ letters asking for help in dealing with the KKK; advised on the institutional repression of lesbian relationships in prison; or responded to African American gay women having to turn to white middle-class groups to counter prejudice from their own community?

Hayes’s point is that this is less time warp than temporal compression, where the young performers, all recruited from queer and feminist Philadelphia circles, evoke contemporary political struggles by revisiting the origins of gay activism. Indeed, the exhibition (and 2016 multichannel video’s) title, “In My Little Corner of the World, Anyone Would Love You,” references a song by Anita Bryant, the famous homophobic Florida campaigner, whose treacly music is played in one scene to direct us inexorably to that state’s recent antigay legislation. The actors casually move through the rooms of a house, reading while sitting in the bathroom, lying in bed, spinning records, typing in the kitchen, or folding and stapling publications at a hallway table in a play of domesticity where Hayes points to the home as the fundamental site of sixty years of sexual politics.

Mark Harris

Bosco Sodi

BLAIN|SOUTHERN
4 Hanover Square
April 20–June 12

View of “Bosco Sodi,” 2016.

The Japanese art of kintsugi—the treatment of cracked or broken pottery with gold lacquer—stems from a philosophical embrace of imperfection. Seams of precious metal trace the jagged fault lines of an object; gold can elevate, but does not mask, these traces of the vessel’s history. Bosco Sodi’s art is forged in a similar spirit of deference for raw materials and natural processes. If you look closely enough at one of his ceramic-glazed volcanic rock sculptures (all works cited Untitled, 2016), a subtle line of gold-on-gold pigment might catch the light, revealing its meandering path across the work’s textured surface.

True to the philosophy of wabi sabi, which has long informed Sodi’s practice, each of the thirty-two rock sculptures featured in his latest exhibition is uniquely shaped and draws focus to the interplay of opposites: the roughness of igneous rock with the smoothness of ceramic glaze. Of varying sizes, these are arranged seemingly haphazardly throughout the gallery, requiring the viewer to walk carefully, even contemplatively, around the space. Such is Sodi’s vision: This show, titled for the concept of Yūgen—defined in faint handwritten script on the entrance wall as the “profound and mysterious beauty of the universe that cannot be described by words”—is laid out like a Japanese garden and invites a reflective mode of viewing.

Sodi has extended his ongoing series of sawdust-and-pigment “paintings,” previously executed in hues such as magenta, charcoal, and ochre. His latest output is strangely suited to spring in England, its palette reminiscent of ash and moss. These appear like grand topographies of cracked earth, and, as with the volcanic rock sculptures, they betray a sense of time and process—melting and cooling, drying and congealing—and of the beauty in roughness.

Allison Young