This autumn, we hosted an incredible event over two nights, featuring visual artist and performance maker Hetain Patel and acclaimed musician Amy May (Hamilton, Paris Motel, Heritage Orchestra) new work Don’t Look.
The piece was commissioned in partnership with Sadler’s Wells after we attended a private screening of Patel’s work earlier this year and learned more about his ambition to showcase a series of short films, all created over a 10 year period, to be accompanied by an original score composed by Amy May.
Bringing two established and widely-acclaimed artists together to create this new work proved to be thought-provoking and entertaining, as Patel played host to this very personal set.
Two stunning nights later, and Patel has big plans for the evolution of the piece. Here, he speaks on how Don’t Look came about, the process of putting the show together, and what to expect in the future.
The idea for Don’t Look came from the collaboration between myself and composer Amy May.
I met Amy four years ago – funnily enough at Rich Mix – during a project we were both working on for poet Shane Solanki. During that project I fell in love with Amy’s stunning music that she was creating for a string quartet (and also playing Viola). A few months after this, as I was making a new short film, I got in touch with Amy and asked her if she’d be up for making the score for it. It was such a great experience working with her. We clicked right away and despite my practice already being quite collaborative already, working with a composer was a first for me.
Long story short, Amy created the music for both The Jump, and my most recent film Don’t Look at the Finger. And since experiencing even the first film in its epic glory in the gallery, I became really keen to have the music live at some stage. It was only a couple of years later, when during a private screening of Don’t Look at the Finger at Rich Mix, Oliver Carruthers (former Artistic Director at Rich Mix) invited Amy and I do this at Rich Mix with live music.
As all of my film works tend to be under 15 minutes in duration, in order to make a full evening show, we decided that we would show around 10 of my works from the past 10 years, with all the previous ones also to undergo the Amy May treatment.
We discussed different ways that Amy could approach the works, from new compositions, to making new arrangements of existing
music. I wanted Amy to have as much freedom as possible within the timeline and budget. It was her who suggested the format and composition of the ensemble of musicians including strings, percussions and singers. Through interrogating me about the concepts behind the films, she also made some really surprising requests, like asking my mum to record some vocals that she wanted to sample for one of the pieces, Mussulman – I think this is probably one of my favourite pieces of the evening – a lot of people were moved by this gorgeous music, and it gave me a way to re-see an old film of mine with fresh eyes.
As exciting an idea as the evening was, it was also a risk. I wasn’t sure whether such a time span of my films would work together in one evening as a live show, as opposed to an exhibition, for example, where people can view the works on their own terms. This was also a reason I was keen to host the evening, introducing the works as we went along, and performing musically with a couple of the films too. Also, the idea of what the show was – film, music, live performance, new music and some existing short films – was a really hard one to condense into snappy marketing text. Often the trouble with genre straddling work is that people tend not to know what it is until they see it for themselves. It’s always a challenge to get an audience to take a risk on a show in London where there are hundreds of more readily defined shows every week.
In the end, thankfully, we had two packed out nights of very lively audiences that had a ball. And given the kind of high profile gigs the musicians usually do, I was surprised at how much the musicians enjoyed the evening too (though maybe I shouldn’t have been, as it must be amazing to play Amy’s beautiful music), and they all seemed keen to tour it.
I was relieved to feel such wonderful responses from the audience and really encouraged that they wanted more. I’m thankful that the whole evening gelled together and it felt like a great way to test a different approach to doing a solo presentation. I’ve been trying different ways over the years to bring my theatre practice and my gallery practice together, and Don’t Look felt like I was finally getting somewhere.
Of course it wasn’t perfect – what experiments are? But it has definitely given me and Amy the hunger to do more. The future for me definitely holds a feature film which I’ll be inviting Amy to score for me – some collaborations you need to keep a tight hold of. Then this will of course be followed by a screening of the film at the Royal Albert Hall with a full orchestra.
Until that dream happens, I’m super grateful for the chance at a first step with Don’t Look at Rich Mix.
Proudly mixing the local with the global, we continue to support and invite established and emerging artists to make new art that speaks vividly and honestly of the joys, challenges and realities of life in the 21st century.