UK-based artist Hetain Patel‘s first car was a 1988 Ford Fiesta handed down from his father. In his first sculptural work, a collaboration with his father and brother, he reconstructs a similar vehicle into a Transformer-like figure.
His artist statement succinctly describes the why and how:
Born in the UK to immigrant Indian parents, the passing of a car between generations provided me with my first taste of independence. In this new work, I’ve turned my hand to a newly acquired 1988 Ford Fiesta of the same specifications as my original car to create my first sculpture. Manufactured in England, this car stands as a symbol of working class Britain, a native body, albeit here a car body.
Another significant influence for me and this work are Transformers, an American film and toy franchise since 1984, and a widely recognisable pop culture reference that reaches far back in Hetain’s memory. In this new sculpture, Transformers have been made manifest, physically, in a literal transformation of a Ford Fiesta car into a large-scale squatting human-like figure. For me, these ‘robots in disguise’ (as per the cartoon’s theme tune) stand as a metaphor for the other, in a fantasy world where they can transform out of a marginal position into one of empowerment.
Importantly, I created this sculpture together with my father, with additional help from my engineer brother and fellow Transformers enthusiast, Pritum Patel. My father, whose day job is to convert cars into hearses and limousines for funerals, has carried out all the fabrication and structural work with me. This work is the third in an ongoing collaboration between us (other works are: video work, To Dance Like Your Dad, 2009 and live performance Me and me Dad and me Wife, 2012, both presented in 2012 at the Tanks at Tate Modern).
Unlike the popular toys and films, however, the car here is not a high-powered sports car or truck transformed into a powerful warrior, but rather a small inexpensive Ford Fiesta transformed into a human-like figure calmly squatting. This posture is a recurring image in my work and forges a link between the lower classes in India and my immigrant family in the UK, both of whom sit comfortably this way. Naturally this introduces a tension in this sculpture between the seemingly submissive nature of the squat and in this case, it’s oddly larger than life scale.
Here’s a time-lapse video of the making of the sculpture:
Earlier this year, Patel also did a provocative TED Talk titled “Who am I? Think again.”