The Other Suit
Hetain Patel | The Other Suit
This new exhibition introduces the artist’s fascination with the mass communicative powers of Hollywood and the entertainment industries. As an avid consumer himself, Patel employs similar tropes in these new works, particularly through the displacement of the widely recognised popular culture icon Spider-Man. From the intimacy of his family home to the online public broadcasting of YouTube, Patel reveals a space where devotion to pop culture and art making are one and the same.
On repeated viewing, the deceptively sleek and fast paced editing, along with Patel’s characteristic humour, give way to darker layers in the artist’s practice in which he demands freedom from the oppressive stereotyping that has been a part of his upbringing. Placing the mainstream figure of Spider-Man quite crudely within the marginalised world of his British Indian identity, he insists on the authenticity of this connection.
In the two channel video installation, The Amazing YouTubers, Patel presents an edited collection of YouTube videos that chart a committed community of teenagers sharing tutorials of making their own costumes, aiming to be movie-accurate to The Amazing Spider-Man films. Alongside this plays a time-lapse of Patel’s own suit making, engaging with the durational element of this activity and identifying with this online community.
Over the past year, Patel has made two Spider-Man costumes. The first, featured in his live performance American Boy (2014, Sadler’s Wells, London), can be seen in the works Baa’s House 1 & 2, where the artist poses for photographs in his Grandmother’s living room in Bolton UK, where he was born. Patel’s sits masked in his first home, squatting in front of family photographs spanning 40 years, next to his Grandmother, the instigator of the family migration from India.
The sculpture, Letter to Peter Parker is the result of four months of Patel hand-writing a thank you letter to the man behind Spider-Man’s mask, Peter Parker. These words, intricately patterned to form the costume are stretched over a cast taken from the artist’s body. In the letter, which repeats many times over, Patel twists Parker’s biography, personal and physical attributes to match his own upbringing and identity. Where Parker puts on the Spider-Man mask to hide his public identity, Patel thanks him for creating a mask that diverts the attention from his primary aim of disguising his skin colour. Where Parker earns an income from taking press photographs of himself crouching as his alter-ego, Patel thanks him for inspiring his own existential practice of self portraiture. The sculpture also pushes Spider-Man’s characteristic crouch into the squatting posture that ties the artist’s family physically to India.
For the multiscreen video installation, The Other Suit, Patel is interested in the traces of pop culture that remain as physical memories in the body. Patel performs a range of male archetypes from Hollywood that have worked their way physically and lyrically into his memory. As with all such influences, they integrate with one another over time, drifting in and out of sync, revealing in this case a foursome of characters who question our right to heritage and belonging. They express it physically and vocally, often violently, but always with the Hollywood sheen of the audio track. The piece is shot in his living room, a place for watching and re-watching. The installation alludes to this space sculpturally, whilst providing gaps through which one will also catch glimpses of the other works, manifestations of these characterisations in other media.