Learned behaviour

Hetain Patel, Dance Like Your Dad, 2009

Hetain Patel, To Dance Like Your Dad, 2009

At some point, all children copy adults. Admittedly, this doesn’t usually take the form of restaging a parent talking about their work, but that’s the basis of Hetain Patel’s To Dance Like Your Dad, a simple but effective video work shown at Frieze by Chatterjee and Lal. Shown on two screens, the work consists of Patel’s father showing us round his place of work and explaining what happens. Patel himself appears on the right hand screen, performing his father’s role in sync with the original. The parent and child relationship is seldom simple and while we may be fiercely proud of our parents they also have the capacity to embarrass. Here there is a sense of pride and respect in the act of restaging – and in filming Patel senior at work in the first place – but the notion of potential embarrassment is right there in the title. Dad dancing is generally not a good thing, after all.

One of the things I most enjoy about Frieze is discovering artists whose work I don’t know well (or, quite often, whose work I don’t know at all), often in the sections reserved for newer galleries (Chatterjee and Lal were showing work by Hetain Patel and Nikhil Chopra as part of Frieze Frame, the area for galleries set up since 2001). In the maelstrom that is an art fair, time-based works can provide welcome moments of respite (or moments of stress as one realises that time is short and the work isn’t) and the beautiful simplicity of To Dance Like Your Dad charmed me completely.

Hetain Patel, Mehndi 9, from the Eva series, 2012

Mehndi 9 from the Eva series, 2012

Patel’s photographic works carry the same intriguing dynamic between the two sides of a diptych. Here Patel is exploring questions of his own identity by using the pigment mehndi on the body of his wife, Eva. The work is not without problems: Eva’s body is unclothed and decorated, while Patel’s is not (or not always), objectifying her. For me though, the series works, in part because of the way the paired and grouped images work together, and Eva’s posture (this looks like collaboration) and in part because of the humour within them. This is careful, considered work that explores Patel’s identity as both British and part of the Indian diaspora in a way that is engaging, amusing and thought-provoking.

Hetain Patel, Mehndi 14

Mehndi 14 from the Eva series, 2012

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