Christine Borland’s new exhibition, In Relation to Linum, explores the lifecycle of flax (Linum usitatissimum) and considers the symbiotic nature of its nurture, evolving the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh’s 350-year relationship with the plant.
Spun flax fibres produce linen, one of the most ancient forms of textile. Prized too for its seeds’ medicinal properties, flax features in Hortus Medicus Edinburgensis, the first catalogue of a plant collection in Scotland, which listed 3,000 plants growing at Edinburgh’s Physic Garden in 1670 – later to become RBGE. In 2021, Borland has planted flax at RBGE, continuing the contemporary and historical cycles embedded in this project.
Unable to sow flax seeds at RBGE during its temporary closure in 2020, Borland distributed seeds to gardeners across the country, who grew flax alongside the artist, in their own gardens, community allotments and co-opted public spaces. Communicating on social media platforms via the hashtag Lineation, the growers shared the same seasonal rituals, which would have sustained both society and environment before the modern scientific and industrial era displaced the plant-lore of women as healers and makers of cloth.
Drawing on this process, In Relation to Linum is an intimate reconnection with the ecological heritage and future of growing and making practices, and their associations with care.
Christine Borland: In Relation to Linum is an Edinburgh Art Festival 2021 partner exhibition, supported by the National Lottery through Creative Scotland and sits within RBGE’s Climate House project, supported by Outset Contemporary Art Fund's Transformative Grant.
For more info on how to visit the exhibition, see here.
A window into the process
“A modern woman sees a piece of linen, but the medieval woman saw through it to the flax fields, she smelt the reek of the retting ponds, she felt the hard rasp of the hackling, and she saw the soft sheen of the glossy flax."
- Dorothy Hartley
“The idea of this exhibition and the intensity of working towards it has sustained me over the past 18 months. I hope the works produced reflect the relationships nurtured between the human and plant communities who have been such an important part of it.”
- Christine Borland
Christine Borland’s work oftens involves collaboration with non-art related institutions, exploring areas such as forensic science, the history of medicine, medical ethics and human genetics. Borland frequently asks us to consider the fragility of human life and the way in which it is valued by social systems and institutions. By introducing the ambiguous and the imaginary to a scientific, medical or other ‘expert’ arena, her works engender a new aesthetic relationship with the subject matter.
The starting point of Borland’s first solo exhibition From Life, in 1994 at Glasgow's Tramway, was the purchase of a human skeleton through a mail-order, medical education supplies catalogue. She consulted with a variety of experts to explore the identity of the specimen and the implications of the processes; built upon colonial legacies, which made the commercial transaction of human remains possible. Since then she has often developed work in negotiation with experts in institutions of science and medicine and in museums, collections and archives to make visible people and practices, usually inaccessible to a general public.