Changing Places was a series of exhibitions showing presented by Film and Video Umbrella that placed contemporary artists’ video at historically significant sites across the country. At the heart of the post-industrial St Georges area of Leicester, Phoenix hosted three artworks by Imran Channa, Desire Machine Collective and Yasmin Jahan Nupur.
The exhibition’s featured artists all live in, work in, or retain a connection to Bangladesh, India or Pakistan. The content of the works, and their placement in Leicester, highlights a shared history between England and South Asia, focusing on the international changes that are happening as a result of industrialisation.
Imran Channa’s installation Dust to Dust is an informal inventory of the artist’s visits to several buildings on the Changing Places tour. What he took away from this encounter with Britain’s industrial, imperial past was a number of painstakingly gathered phials of dust, collected from corners, swept up from the floor – as if commenting on the transience of material things, and how even the grandest of empires dwindles to nothing in the end.
A large-scale drawing depicts the Crystal Palace, the glass-fronted showpiece that housed London’s Great Exhibition of 1851. The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations (to give it its full name) was a tribute to Victorian technological ingenuity, and Britain’s place at the centre of it. As the major branches of industrial production transfer to the East, Channa’s image acts as an emblem of a fading power whose imprint nevertheless reaches deep.
Accompanying the drawing and the accumulated jars of dust, a soundtrack tells the story of Channa’s tour around Britain. Where the drawing pares everything down to a bare minimum, here the artist elaborates on his journey and creates something resembling a Kipling-era adventure.
Inspired by the writings of privileged explorers who visited and documented the colonies, he uses a similar language to tell a highly embellished account of his visit to England.
Residue, by Desire Machine Collective, depicts the crumbling, forgotten structure of a former power station outside the artists’ hometown of Guwahati, India. Without the will for its preservation or re-purposing, the structure is becoming engulfed by the nature that surrounds it. With this process of abandonment comes a different kind of regeneration, or new beginning – not for the benefit of humans, but for other species such as the insects that have begun to inhabit the building. The site’s abandonment offers an interesting counter point to the regeneration of the post-industrial sites across the city of Leicester.
In Away From Home, Yasmin Jahan Nupur presents the lives of people who have relocated from Bangladesh to Mauritius in search of work. Exhibited in a city that has undergone huge demographic shifts through the movement of people, either through economic necessity, political instability or adventure, the film acts as a reminder of some of the reasons for migration, as well as evoking the industrial history of Leicester’s factories and mills.
A Film and Video Umbrella touring exhibition, supported by Arts Council England, Canal & River Trust, National Trust, City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council, Hastings Museum & Art Gallery, Phoenix Leicester, Feltech, Links Signs and Heritage Lottery Fund. Curated by Mariam Zulfiqar.
In the video below, curator Mariam Zulfiqar talks through some of the artworks and themes, and the unusual non-gallery spaces that have been selected to host the exhibitions.