Josh Bitelli vs Felix Melia

Two 89plussers and decade-long friends chat about their post-industrial art of the roads

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Over the weekend, the 89plus project took over the Serpentine in London’s Sackler Gallery: a smoothly curving, vaguely gelatinous space designed by Zaha Hadid's team, in the aggressively de-localised style that she has sprinkled on art spaces around the world. During the Marathon of speakers and artists born in or after the launch of the internet, two of the most engaging works were childhood friends Felix Melia and Josh Bitelli. Both brought up in London, they both make work that engages with the world as it is lived, time, history, industry and technology. They apparently talk about their separate and equally super interesting work almost every day. 

Josh is a designer who makes things out of industrial process. He spoke about his project to produce items of furniture from asphalt made during roadworks. Felix Melia, on the other hand, makes video art, mainly (his A Day Like Any Other is a total must-see) who presented the world’s first Snapchat art film: a collection of ten second clips sent from two different cars speeding down London’s Ballardian Westway. We spoke to these two whip-smart guys about their messy art and their new ideas on the tidy lawn backstage.

Dazed Digital: How did 89plus come about?

Josh Bitteli: We just went to the Brutally Early Club and met Hans.

DD: What’s the Brutally Early Club?

Felix Malia: Its just brutal. We got there at 6.30, 6am. Hans said that amongst people working in the arts, it’s so difficult to find a time when one person is free. People are so mobile and so busy that he decided that the best time to get them is when they should be asleep. It’s actually strange because you think you’re going to be blurry-eyed but everyone switches on incredibly quickly and it makes your day incredibly productive.

Hans said that amongst people working in the arts, it’s so difficult to find a time when one person is free, so he decided that the best time to get them is when they should be asleep 

Josh Bitelli: But apparently there’s a Brutally Late Club as well – I’d be much better at that.

DD: That reminds me of that amazingly named Arcadia Missa journal, “How To Sleep Faster.”

How did you guys meet?

Josh Bitelli: I would say we’ve been friends since we were 14.

DD: Josh, did you study industrial design? 

Josh Bitelli: I did a course that was very geared towards making things and understanding materials, and properties of materials, and what can be done with materials to say certain things. Really amazing but it’s most certainly not industrial design. 

Felix Melia: What’s interesting is if you engage with industrial processes, as both me and Josh do in different ways, you can be critical and at the same time hold a sincerity because so much of what goes on in industrial processes makes up the infrastructure and architecture. It basically builds the environment that people are moving through whether they care or not, whether they’re awake to it or not. So, it’s not really so much the looking of it as this burning furnace that you have to tear down - it’s more like this is going to continue to occur so you have to think about how things can shift. And so there is this sincerity – I mean for me a romanticism that is archaic, totally archaic.

DD: In what sense?

Felix Melia: To find those beautiful, industrial moments, where it’s built out of grids and heavy materials.

Josh Bitelli: These arteries and veins are built for horse and cart – I’m actually really interested in the points where these interactions meet and the disturbances that they make and how this affects peoples lives and social strata and like, people’s experience of place in this arcaic industrial landscape. 

Felix Melia: Yeah, I think for me it comes from a spatial concern – how people perceive space and then infrastructure and architecture are other ways spaces are demarcated and the way it’s given connective energy. I’m interested in the narratives that are encoded within that. 

DD: We're in the midst of this huge digital switch that 89plus is supposed to symbolize, yet there is so much past around us! 

Felix Melia: The past isn’t going away, and the present is still very spacialised I think. 

DD: Felix, maybe you want to talk about the Snapchat film that you made? 

Felix Melia: So we had two cars travelling in tandem convoy headed down Western Avenue. It’s fantastic there because in the space of 10 minutes you go from a total suburb into the direct center of London. But in my mind there was a kind of almost American mystery to it, and so I wanted to bring out certain narratives about how people move through the city and how they filter through the frame of a window. So I wanted to find a way of producing two dual narratives that were traversing the same space. It became to do with how you can cinematize an environment, through music, through how you frame your perception of space or your environment, how we hang all these narrative appendices onto space, based on our shared or collective imagination, and how they effect our memory of the spaces we encounter.

I wanted to bring out certain narratives about how people move through the city and how they filter through the frame of a window. So I wanted to find a way of producing two dual narratives that were traversing the same space. It became to do with how you can cinematize an environment, through music, through how you frame your perception of space or your environment ... 

DD: That’s really interesting. There’s a nice mix of the ephemerality of Snapchat –once it’s been seen, it doesn’t even exist in a virtual sense – and how that meets the material-y-ness of the footage. If it’s not too clunky, how do you think your work responds to this, Josh? 

Josh Bitelli: So I made a project last year that was a study on the roads and arteries that connect huge industries we have no idea about. These events that happen everyday and are a look inside a very seamless way of living in an established infrastructure. So, when roads need mending, there’s this interrupting or break in the systems. I guess these systems are only really noticed when things are being dug up and there are huge traffic jams. So I wanted to make stuff out of these events. I was turning up with a steel frame and plaster moulds and making some stuff on site, almost like monuments of particular events. 

I guess these systems are only really noticed when things are being dug up and there are huge traffic jams. So I wanted to make stuff out of these events. I was turning up with a steel frame and plaster moulds and making furniture on site

Felix Melia: (talking to Josh) How long did it take for you to become friends with the guys doing the road works? 

Josh Bitelli: Pretty quickly! Cycling around and meeting them in various places and various encounters. I mean, they’re kind of hard to miss - you can smell them a mile off. 

DD: But you’d literally just be turning up to some road works with a wire frame and saying “can I use some of that tarmac?” 

Josh Bitelli: Exactly!

For more head-to-head interview with the movers and shakers of 89plus, head here

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