Changing Places is a series of exhibitions showing contemporary artists’ video within historic buildings across the country. Osterley Park and House is one of ten venues on this nationwide tour and hosts two video works by Bani Abidi and Desire Machine Collective, and a newly-commissioned installation of objects, drawing and sound by Imran Channa.
The tour’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 at Osterley highlights a shared history between England and South Asia, focusing on the international changes that are happening as a result of industrialisation.
Bani Abidi’s six-screen video installation Funland depicts Karachi, the main sea port of Pakistan. The city is home to the country’s largest corporations involved in textiles, shipping, advertising and medical research. The strategic importance of Karachi for the British Empire can be gauged by the historic development of its harbour, and the number of colonial buildings that were built across the city. Karachi’s links to Osterley came via the Child Family, who acquired Osterley House and had a longstanding involvement with The East India Company. Abidi’s work highlights the tensions arising from Karachi’s rapid development – consequences of change felt similarly in cities across the world. The work shows a dilapidated cinema building burnt down by protestors, the fate of a theme park resting on the construction of the country’s tallest skyscraper, and a library undergoing extreme censorship. The single figure of a man staring out to sea underlines how, in a city of millions, the impact of change is felt on a personal level.
Imran Channa’s installation, Dust to Dust is an informal inventory of his visits to several buildings on the Changing Places tour, which included Osterley Park and House. 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 is 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.
With Osterley Park and House having endured varying states of disrepair, renovation and transformation throughout its history, Desire Machine Collective’s film Residue invites us to reflect on the value placed on heritage and the drive for preservation. It depicts the crumbling, forgotten, yet monumental space of a disused power station outside the artists’ hometown of Guwahati, India. Without the will for its preservation or repurposing, 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.