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American Export: Hetain Patel / Emma Smith

15 February – 28 March 2020


Hetain Patel and Emma Smith launched new projects, Heavy Metal and Plastic Dreams and A School for Tourists: Online, at The Library of Birmingham on Saturday 15 February 2020. The launch closed with a special reworking of Hetain Patel’s acclaimed performance, American Boy. 

Hetain’s work is on display at the Library of Birmingham until Saturday 28 March 2020 from 11 – 7pm Mondays & Tuesdays and from 11-5pm Wednesday to Saturday.

The new works, Heavy Metal and Plastic Dreams and A School for Tourists: Online are part of American Export – a series of site-specific projects developed for Birmingham City University, the Library of Birmingham, Millennium Point, Thinktank Planetarium and The University of Westminster. Curated by Christina Millare, American Export features newly commissioned and pre existing work by international artists, Jen Liu, Hetain Patel, Emma Smith and Tito & Tita, that explore the impact of American cultural and economic ideas on Britain, China and the Philippines – three countries with a distinct and unique relationship with America.

American Export is developed with support from The Centre of Research and Education in Art and Media (CREAM) at the University of Westminster, Grand Union and Arts Council England.

Hetain Patel, Heavy Metal and Plastic Dreams (2020)
Fascinated by Hollywood’s power to influence global culture through the merchandising of their film characters, artist Hetain Patel is creating a series of action figures of characters from his existing and future films. Proposing alternatives to the white normative bodies that dominate the toy industry, Patel’s figures are designed to become irresistible avatars for children and adults to project themselves into, regardless of their race, gender or body type. Alongside these will be a series of Transformer toy robots from the artist’s own collection, painted to imitate bronze – the material we typically use to commemorate important figures in history. Patel’s action figures and Transformers will take residence in the Shakespeare Memorial Room, seeking recognition for their role in shaping the fictions and realities of who we are, and offering new propositions.

American Boy 2020
Hetain will perform a recently updated excerpt from his performance, American Boy (2014). Originally commissioned for the theatre, by Sadler’s Wells, the work is partly self-portrait made of film quotes, and partly a reflection on the intersection of popular culture and identity politics. Taking quotes from characters and films that have taken residence in the artist’s mind and body and physically, projecting the seductiveness of the violence, racism and misogyny from the source material. The live performance is a prelude to Hetain’s recent and ongoing films, which respond by making cultural propositions – rewriting power dynamics and representation within the familiar immersive worlds of cinema.

Hetain Patel is the winner of the 2019 Film London Jarman Award. He is a visual artist working across film, photography, sculpture and live performance in galleries, theatres and online. Working collaboratively with artists across disciplines, and with family members and non professionals, Patel enjoys working across multiple languages, culturally and artistically.

In recent years Patel has done Bruce Lee impersonations on stage at the Royal Opera House, completed commissions for Tate Modern and Sadler’s Wells, London, and made a working class Transformer robot from an old Ford Fiesta, with his dad. He designed part of a mini golf course for the Venice Biennale, and has created a number of multi lingual dance theatre productions, including a commission for Candoco Dance Company which continues to tour internationally.

In 2013 Patel was invited to do a TED talk, which has since had close to 3 million hits, adding to a total of 48 million views of his videos and performances online. 

Emma Smith, A School for Tourists: Online (2020)
In an age where dataveillance is big business, how can we understand how our online identities and data are used; who has rights to our surveillance, who owns and governs our online selves, and how can we protect our civil liberties? 

In Autumn 2019 Emma Smith held two workshops at The Birmingham School of Art posing the questions: What is your online identity? Who created it? Who has access to it? And who controls it? During these sessions the artist worked collaboratively with IKON’s Youth Programme and students from Birmingham City University to develop a guide that considers creative strategies for understanding and negotiating the hidden governance of our online selves as American exports. 

Guests and contributors to School for Tourists: Online include special guests Paul Bradshaw, online journalist, blogger, course leader for MA Data Journalism and MA Multiplatform and Mobile Journalism, and consultant data journalist for the BBC data unit, Richard Hale, Lecturer of Digital Forensics at Birmingham City University and former Senior Digital Forensic Investigator and Laboratory Manager at SYTECH Consultants, Salameh Abu Rmeileh from the Centre for Enterprise Systems, Birmingham City University and contributor Nafeez Ahmed, award winning investigative journalist, author, academic and founding editor and chief of INSURGE Intelligence, specialising in international security and complex systems theory. The publication will be printed in association with BAAAD press and in collaboration with The Holodeck print and design studio.

Emma Smith has a social based practice and creates installations, events and performances through research and collaboration. Recent solo exhibitions include: 5Hz and Euphonia at HOME, Manchester UK, The Whistling Orchestra at Temple Contemporary, Philadelphia USA (2019); Wunderblock at Freud Museum London UK (2019); We at The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge UK (2019); 5Hz at Primary, Nottingham UK (2018-9) and Euphonia at Bluecoat, Liverpool UK (2018). Recent group exhibitions include Hauser & Wirth Somerset (2018); Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge (2018) and touring exhibition material / rearranged / to / be with Siobhan Davies Dance that premiered at the Barbican before touring to Whitworth Manchester, Bluecoat Liverpool, and Tramway Glasgow UK (2017). Previous works include commissions for Art on the Underground, Tate Modern, Tate Britain, South London Gallery, Whitechapel Gallery, Delfina Foundation, ICA, London UK; MAAS, Sydney Australia; B-A-U, Italy; Kunstmuseum Luzern, Switzerland; and Matadero Madrid, Spain.