‘A Partition’ by Josh Bitelli at Cell Project Space consists of a 22-minute video situated in a corner of the room. Transcripts of interviews with health care professionals are performed in surround sound throughout the gallery. The partition in the gallery space is created by installing a curtain used in hospitals to divide up the room in a maze-like fashion. It is in the combination of these elements that the disorientation and confusion of modern day treatments, processes and language related to health care is depressingly conveyed.
When you first enter ‘A Partition’, the clinical curtain is laid out in what feels like an impractical way. It feels like a poor use of space, finding yourself walking around the perimeter to establish what’s actually in the exhibition. The layout echoes the maze of a hospital but when behind the curtain a substantial element of the surround sound is highlighted. You’re placed in the position of a hospital patient, only able to hear the whispers, conversations, noises and movements right next to and around you. You’re unable to see where it comes from and unable to interact with it.
The language used and the staid way in which the text is delivered in the video further this sense of alienation. You feel the irritation of both patient and hospital worker, where health care has devolved into a tedious tick box exercise of routine questions and answers. It’s a depressing irony that this standardisation of interaction, originally meant to improve efficiency and safeguard neglect, now feels impersonal and apathetic.
The experiences of non-English speakers are also highlighted with audio visual guides flashing up at times with translations in a variety of languages. These heighten connections between the foreign, out of place feeling of being in a hospital that each of us feel.
At certain moments the music becomes harsher and more abrasive, building up to a platform of noise that effectively replicates the aural equivalent of an anxiety attack. It’s exactly elements like this that demonstrate the effectiveness of the combination of sound and installation. The white walls and suspended ceiling tiles installed within the gallery, combined with the droning hum of several fans, again place you in what feels like a hospital.
Despite a strong subject and installation, the setting of the video itself takes away from the immersive feel of ‘A Partition’. While some elements worked toward the central theme of alienation, for example overlaying the faces of actors with the faceless, impersonal aspects of what it can feel like to be a patient, the choreographed dances on screen feel poorly realised and have little positive impact on your relation to the content. The location looks very much like a school hall, and combined with poor lighting and camera work, this detracts from the experience.
Regardless of these missteps, Bitelli’s exhibition utilises sound, video and a simple curtain to great effect to create a sympathetic portrayal of the difficulties and realities faced by modern doctors, nurses and patients in health care contexts.
Alongside the exhibition, a series of exhibition-related events are also taking place at The Old Operating Theatre in Southwark.