Hetain Patel’s works have entertained and intrigued us since the opening of APT8 and APT8 Kids. Laura Mudge spoke with him about what inspired The Jump and Behind the Mask.
Laura Mudge | Your work for APT8, The Jump, relates to your experiences as a child. Can you tell us about that?
Hetain Patel | Like many kids I used to fantasise about being a superhero. My favourite has always been Spider-Man — I used to jump off the sofa pretending to be him. The Jump is filmed in the house that all of my family have lived in at some point since emigrating from India to the UK. My grandmother still lives there today. I lived there until I was five years old. For this film I wanted to return to the original house, to the original sofa I first jumped off, and re-stage it with my homemade Spider-Man costume and the production value of a Hollywood blockbuster. The actual jumping action is symbolic of lots of things; it’s about taking a leap into the unknown, whether this is my family migrating to a new country, or my British-born generation wanting to fly the coup and be part of the Western world outside the front door. Beyond the cultural specificity of this I think everyone has their own jump or multiple jumps in them, whether it is one they have done or is still latent in them.
Laura Mudge | Could you explain how you achieved the super slow motion effect for The Jump?
Hetain Patel | It required specialist camera and lighting equipment, and experienced crew. We shot the film at 2500 frames per second, which is one-hundredth of the speed of real life. The shots in real time are about three-and-a-half seconds, which I’ve slowed down to about six minutes. You need five times the amount of lighting for this kind of filming than you would normally need, and it needs to be of a particular kind so that you don’t see it flickering at the extremely slow pace.
Laura Mudge | Your APT8 Kids project Behind the Mask closely relates to The Jump. What is it about the work that you think is engaging for children in particular?
Hetain Patel | I think beyond the superhero part of it, there is something quite ‘nature documentary’ about watching something happen at such a slow speed. A lot of things happen in life at such a fast pace that I think that, for a lot of us, it can be quite mesmerising to slow something down.
Laura Mudge | In The Jump you are wearing your own homemade Spider-Man costume, which is very impressive. Why did you choose to wear a homemade outfit rather than a store-bought one?
Hetain Patel | The obsessive DIY-ness in making the costume is part of the work. Manual labour is a recurring process in my practice and is a reference to the working-class background that I consider to be my cultural heritage. The costume appears in other works of mine, including a video installation that shows the making process. I spent a lot of time making it, with an amount of detail and bespoke elements that you can’t buy in a store.
Laura Mudge | How long did it take you to make your costume? Did you need to take classes?
Hetain Patel | It took me four months. I did a lot of research online and got lots of invaluable tips from a vast community of guys on YouTube who make their own Spider-Man costumes on a budget. In the end, I mixed lots of different methods to make mine how I wanted it. I bought a blue morph suit from a place where you can input your measurements online, and then they send it to you fitting perfectly from head to toe. Then I drew on the design (which I know by heart) and spent many hours painting the mesh pattern, crosshatch, webbing and colour by hand, using 3-D fabric paint.
Laura Mudge | In Behind the Mask, your APT8 Kids project which features photographs of children from in and around London dressed up as superheroes, the children are also wearing homemade costumes. Why is this important?
Hetain Patel | I asked them to dress up as any superhero they wanted to be, but actually didn’t put any restrictions on this as I was interested to see what they would do. As it turned out, even though many of the kids had store-bought costumes, none of them opted to wear them, preferring instead to make up their own with the look and powers that they had tailored for themselves.
Laura Mudge | Superheroes are experiencing a golden age right now, with new Marvel and DC movies being released multiple times a year. Did you find that the children you worked with were very familiar with the concept of superheroes?
Hetain Patel | Yes, they were all very familiar with it. But I don’t necessarily think this is a recent thing. I think kids have been familiar with the concept of superheroes for as long as heroism has been part of the stories we tell. If superheroes are manifestations of something that goes beyond regular human capabilities, then I imagine that in Roman times, gladiators would have been considered superheroes. I think the powers we see in our superheroes now are a reflection of the ever-widening scope of what we see as possible for humans to achieve.
Laura Mudge | Were the children intrigued by the idea of dressing up as a superhero for the project?
Hetain Patel | They loved it. They all seemed to do it on a daily or weekly basis anyway but their parents all told me they had been particularly excited about the shoot and wanted their costumes to be perfect.
Laura Mudge | What is the significance of photographing the children in mid-jump?
Hetain Patel | The initial plan was to film them in the same slow motion as my film. The photographs were ‘Plan B’ due to budget restrictions, but proved to be interesting in their own right. I like that it’s a medium that everyone has access to. The jumping action, particularly for kids this age, is genuinely a place of excitement, imagination and self-projection — a short but thrilling and scary time of being free, flying. I also love the kids’ reactions to seeing their own photographs. They were impressed with themselves and wanted to do more.
Laura Mudge | How have you found the process of creating an artwork specifically for children?
Hetain Patel | Considering the audience is a key part of my work and I enjoy the challenge of making work aimed at audiences that I am not used to. I enjoy thinking about how to take one of my ideas and make it accessible to different audiences without compromising its integrity. In this sense, it is something I find myself doing more and more. And in this case it wasn’t too much of a stretch, as I think a lot like a kid anyway.
Laura Mudge | Children are also able to engage with your APT8 Kids project by dressing up as superheroes and sending in their own picture. Why do you think this kind of dressing up has such broad appeal?
Hetain Patel | I think dressing up has broad appeal because it’s a part of getting to know ourselves. For children it is particularly potent, because getting to know themselves and the world is their full-time job. Even as adults, we still do this, whether it is a uniform for work, dressing up for a night out, or being at home. With each of these costumes, we feel and act differently. It feels like one of the ways we can continually negotiate our identities.
The Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT)
is the Gallery’s flagship exhibition focused on the work of Asia, the Pacific and Australia.
Until Sunday 10 April 2016
Exhibition Founding Sponsor: Queensland Government
Exhibition Principal Sponsor: Audi Australia
APT8 Kids Principal Benefactor: Tim Fairfax Family Foundation
Major Sponsor: Santos GLNG