ASPLENIUM ADIANTUM NIGRUM (BLACK SPLEENWORT) BY ANNA FERGUSON 2002
Christine Borland (1965 – )
- 61 X 47 CM
- HAND-COLOURED ETCHING
- Accession number
This series of etchings stems from a nine-month fellowship that Christine Borland undertook at the University of Glasgow’s Social and Public Health Sciences Unit between 1998-99. Her research led her to a pocket book copy of the early, influential Herbal written by Leonard Fuchs, De Historia Stirpium [The History of Plants], published in 1542. The fly leaf had been annotated in the 1550s by the Reverend Mark Jameson, a student who was then serving as Rector's Deputy (at that time the University was closely connected to the adjacent Cathedral). Jameson’s notes contained an idea for a new, specialised University Physic Garden, and included among his list of plants were a number of species believed to induce premature contractions in pregnant women. Surrounded by a scientific and academic community, Borland expanded on her findings through paper works, sculpture and installation.
In this portfolio of etchings, The History of Plants According to Women, Children and Students (2002), Borland visualises Jameson’s list on the basis of woodcut illustrations from Fuchs’ History of Plants. However, Borland’s alternative history focuses on the unnamed figures behind the historical documents. She summons up the tradition of employing woman and children to hand-colour plates for books, and redresses the fact that, unlike the artist or engraver, these craftspeople were not credited. Whereas Fuchs mentions the artist and engravers of his illustrations in the introduction to his History of Plants, the titles of Borland’s etchings only credit the colourist - from a group of women attending a public drawing class at the Royal Botanical Gardens Edinburgh; no other hand in the drawings’ manufacture is identified.
The etchings are printed on identically sized paper, which is yellowed, evoking aged pages from a sheaf of archaic illustrations. The plants are uprooted, floating in the middle of the paper; they are lightly coloured and tonally similar, but the untutored techniques vary gently from one print to another. Black Spleenwort was traditionally used to treat sickness of the spleen - a custom derived from the spleen-shaped pattern on the back of the leaves, and Anna Ferguson has paid particular attention to the shadows on the underside of the fronds. So too Stephanie Byron picks out the different shades on either side of the poisonous Birthwort’s heart-shaped leaves. Michelle Daniels has caught the delicacy of Savory’s lilac flowers, in contrast to the heavier colouring of the hairy root below. Denise The accentuates the sinister root of the highly poisonous Forking Larkspur: it is long and dwindling in form, but darkening in colour beneath pretty blue-hooded flowers. Hogs Fennel is a rare plant in Britain, growing in East Kent and North Essex, and is characterised by the strong sulphurous smell of its root - hinted at by Rebecca Conway’s all-over cloudy palette. Christine Borland has herself coloured the etching of Juniper, its tuft of roots left pale and wispy beneath a tangle of round leaves where darker dabs indicate shadows.
This set of etchings complements a public sculpture commission made to commemorate the University of Glasgow’s 550th anniversary. To be Set and Sown in the Garden (2002) was installed in a green space overlooked by the Hunterian Art Gallery: a series of benches with white ceramic headrests were arranged in reference to the beds used for dissection in mediaeval times. Each headrest was engraved with an illustration of a plant from the garden. Also directly related to Borland’s connection with Glasgow University is her piece, Ecbolic Garden, Winter, first installed in her solo show at the Lisson Gallery in Spring 2001. Here she foregrounded the plants on Jameson’s list that were, at the time, considered ecbolic (able to induce an abortion). These plants were found to be part of a 16th century garden close to the original university in Glasgow, and Borland questions its connection with the medical school. Fifty glass vessels, with shapes suggestive of wombs, were suspended from the ceiling, from variable heights, each containing a leaf that has been bleached and preserved in alcohol. Only a trace of the leaves remained visible. Among these pants were wild parsnip, tongue savory, forking larkspur, juniper, calendula and penny royal - all of which feature inThe History of Plants, According to Women, Children & Students.
Christine Borland: Preserves, Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh 2006
Christine Borland: Progressive Disorder, (exh cat) Dundee Contemporary Arts, Dundee and Book Works, London 2001
Christine Borland, York University Art Gallery, Toronto 2001