Christine Borland, Harvest (from Dig, Rake, Sow, Riddle, Water, Weed, Harvest, Ripple, Winnow), 2020-21. Courtesy of the artist.
In Relation to Linum, Christine Borland's new exhibition for Inverleith House at the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh explores the lifecycle of flax, Linum usitatissimum, and considers the symbiotic interaction between the seasonal ritual of its nurture and the environment. 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 Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh. The plant-lore of women as healers and makers of cloth was displaced by the modern scientific and industrial era. New works in print, watercolour, sculpture and digital media are inspired by its history and scientific relevance as well as its growing, tending and processing to a stage short of spinning.
Borland had originally planned to sow the flax seeds in the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh in 2020 but was unable to due to its closure imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic. Instead, a team of 34 gardeners were recruited through a social media call out to grow flax seeds sent to them by Borland in their own gardens, community allotments and co-opted public spaces across the UK.
The team of growers communicated regularly; discussing everything from their weeds and pest problems to textile histories and colonial plant research. All the flax grown was dried by each participant and sent to Borland to become raw material for the exhibition.
In Relation to Linum is an intimate reconnection with the ecological heritage and future of growing and making practices, and their associations with care; a timely thought and act during the global pandemic of 2020.
Christine Borland: In Relation to Linum is part of Edinburgh Art Festival 2021. It is supported by Creative Scotland and sits within RBGE’s Climate House project, supported by Outset Contemporary Art Fund's Transformative Grant. The artist’s initial research into flax was supported by a research residency at Deveron Projects, Huntly funded by the RSA. The artist will return to the organisation for a follow-up residency in late 21/22.
For more info on how to visit 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
it starts with one line of string laid on the lawn, in early spring
the silky brown seeds to make a dense planting, in a smooth, circular choreography
when most of the seed heads have yellowed, bunches are gathered and pulled
remove the seeds and process the dried flax to extract the fibres
once again, the silky brown seeds…
“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.