Christine Borland's Cast From Nature culminates in a recasting of a 19th century sculpture

Christine Borland

Talitha Kotzé attends a public casting session

Talitha Kotzé attends a public casting session by Christine Borland and talks to the sculptor about her new show, which culminates in a recasting of a 19th century sculpture

Christine Borland is meticulously attending to the inert body as we watch her every move via the live feed from the next room. Hands gloved, she circles the exposed body – skin peeled back from jaw to pelvis – and delicately touches its limbs. Her assistant passes the scalpel on cue.

What viewers can watch here from an anatomy theatre-like CCTV room is the outcome of Borland’s three-month production residency at Glasgow Sculpture Studios (GSS). In a nod to the public dissections of previous centuries, this exhibition stages live casting sessions where the artist will recast a 19th century sculpture entitled ‘From Nature’, allegedly cast directly from a flayed male body by Edinburgh anatomist John Goodsir.

Borland’s practice hinges on the border between science and art, the rational and the poetic. This work was born out of a visit to Edinburgh’s Royal College of Surgeons where Borland first came across a fibreglass replica of the sculpture. What fascinated her was the classical pose of the figure and Borland speaks eloquently about her initial response: ‘The sculpture exists as a scientific object, but is then aestheticised as an art object. I was curious as to who made these decisions. Was it the anatomist or was there an artist involved? I started asking these questions, but no one knew the answers and there was no record apart from a plaque that confirmed the date as 1845.’

Questions remained to whether the cast was an educational tool or a means to memorialise the figure and Borland tells the story: ‘When the invitation at GSS came up it seemed like a good starting point to make a work, but I spent the first two months trying to find the original plaster cast.’ A tip off then came through that someone had seen the piece in a basement full of broken sculptures which once graced the halls of the vast anatomy museum, and Borland could only hope for the best.

‘It was a classic filmic journey going underground, past the brick walls – it was cobwebby as far as the eye could see – dusty limbs protruding from dark corners. And then, there it was, the sculpture in a very damaged state.’
Borland now has on loan what appears to be one of two original casts and has painstakingly pieced it back together. She is intrigued by its Pietà-like pose isolated from the comforting lap of the mother, and she intends to work with this absent feature when it comes to presenting her complete sculpture. Integral to the piece is her performative act, which makes her deeply complicit. It guides us back to the dissection process, and the actual anatomical material that breathed life into the history and present-day appropriation of this object.

To fully appreciate the work requires a time commitment from the viewer. The casting process will take until the end of January, so we are encouraged to return for the end product. Borland concludes on the interaction of the viewer: ‘What is essential is the slowing down process. You don’t get anything if you don’t commit to it. And that makes me feel that it has worked.’

Christine Borland: Cast From Nature, Glasgow Sculpture Studios, until Sat 26 Mar.

Christine Borland

Solo exhibition of new work entitled Cast From Nature, following on from the artist's period of residency at Glasgow Sculpture Studios. The work examines the performative aspects of the doctor/patient relationship, inspired by an original sculpture by John Goodsir taken from a cast of a medically-anatomised corpse.

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