Review highlights – At Home, Hetain Patel

Hetain Patel’s exhibition At Home is an intensely personal body of film and photographic work which interweaves narrative, memory, ritual, imitation and language. In doing so, the British artist looks to question the nature of identity and the home in the context of a ‘displaced’ Indian heritage.

To Dance like your Dad (2009) is a two channel video installation. On the left-hand screen, Patel’s father shows the viewer around the workshop of a coach factory, and on the right, Patel mimics the actions and speech of his father from the stripped-back confines of an empty dance studio. In doing so he translates the ordinary and everyday into a choreographed performance in dislocation from its original source. These chiming voices speak with humour and a touch of melancholy, alluding not just to the linearity of family genetics, but to taking pride in one’s hard work, and the notion of following in father’s footsteps. Patel ‘performs’ his father, acting out aspects of his character as a child would do in order to make sense of themselves and their world, albeit this time in a very knowing manner.

© Hetain Patel
A still taken from ‘To Dance Like Your Dad’, 2009, 2 channel digital video with sound, 6m 15s.

Five screens show video works taking the artist’s frail elderly grandmother as subject, sat on the sofa, hunched over and ringing a cloth between her hands as she recites her morning prayers. In Mamai (2012) the viewer is presented with domestic familial interaction between Patel’s mother and grandmother in touching acts of love, care, sadness and the inevitable passing of time. Each screen presents similar claustrophobic scenes occurring over different days, five intimate snapshots of a life the viewer feels they intrude upon. The moment when five grandmothers speak at once is viscerally powerful. Uncannily, these screens seem to split time into fragments. The points where time slips and bleeds confuses the eyes and the mind of the viewer.

In the main gallery space, works take the artist and his new wife (herself a curator of French and Spanish heritage) as subject. On a large video wall, scenes from the film Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon play alongside re-enactions by Patel in British suburban domesticity. In his work The First Dance (2012), Patel’s dressing gown becomes his kung fu robe, while his wife wears the traditional red-gold garments of an Indian bride. Here, collisions between time, place, cultures, fiction and reality build a series of hybridised protagonists entirely aligned with post-modern notions.

© Hetain Patel

A still taken from ‘Mamai’, 2012, 5 channel digital video installation with sound, 8m 33s.

Eva (2012) is a series of photographs of the artist and his wife. In these portraits, the body becomes a canvas for communication, text written onto the two figures in long rambling lines or cartoonish speech bubbles. Offering moments of stillness, these portraits are fragmented into separate images wherein faces are lost in the gap between frames. Faces are turned away from the camera or cropped out. Meanings slide out of one frame and into another, and the gaze of the viewer remains resolutely one-sided.

This is an exhibition of emotional integrity, poignancy and humour which elegantly reveals much about the artist and ourselves.

Hetain Patel
At Home
mac, Birmingham
30 November 2013- 26 January 2014

Published on Photomonitor 15 January 2014


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