After seeing artefacts in the former Brander Museum which document Huntly's thriving 18th century linen industry, Christine Borland embarked on researching this heritage and its subsequent decline in slow time by growing, harvesting and processing the flax plant, which for centuries was widespread in the area, then spinning and weaving the linen thread. Her enquiry has been taking place alongside and in partnership with a community of interested local growers and craftspeople combined with 3D technologies to explore alternative forms of archiving.
Huntly once had a thriving linen industry and supported up to 900 local spinners. In common with the rest of the country, linen production was super-ceded by imported cotton, and the flax fields that once surrounded the town have disappeared. How can we make the process of producing linen visible to reflect the relationships between human and plant communities and reconnect participants and publics with the ecological heritage and future of growing and making practices?
Starting in April 2019 a section of a circular flax planting was seeded every week for 6 weeks in the Brander Garden, Huntly where it grew as the literal test-bed for the project. Seeds were also distributed to a new community of growers. The harvested flax was processed (broken, scutched and heckled) using equipment from the Highland Folk Museum, following which Borland learned to spin the processed flax, working with textile artists Daisy Williamson and Lynne Hocking, (the spinning being done over the winter as was traditionally the case). The resulting three and a half kilometres of thread has now been woven into a linen cloak by Lynne Hocking. This Foundation Cloth will form the centrepiece of a programme of talks, events and a performance presented on 24 September, which has been devised in collaboration with Grace Borland Sinclair, a PhD researcher at The University of Glasgow. Their experimental presentation The Distaff Dialogues records Borlands experience of flax and linen practices, in dialogue with a speculative lyrical account authored by daughter Grace, suggesting a future in which intimate knowledge of cultivating plants and their fibres has been all but lost. They are accompanied by a digital avatar who embodies the movements described in their texts.
By learning a new succession of related growing and making practices, Borland has tested how we acquire and pass on knowledge as well as questioning why. Working alongside small groups of participants and demonstrating practices to larger groups, the project celebrates matrilineal, alternative forms of generating, passing on and archiving making traditions. Exploring performed, embodied knowledge (that the body knows how to act) in combination with 3D technologies, Borland proposes these growing and making practices as intimate encounters across time and space.
Christine Borland (born 1965) was born in Darvel, Ayrshire, Scotland in 1965 and is one of Scotlands most respected contemporary artists. For over 30 years her practice has pioneered critical, cross-disciplinary collaborations at the juncture of ecologies of practice. Her works, built on research in institutions of science and medicine, museums, collections and archives, make visible people, places and practices usually inaccessible to a general public.
Christine Borland studied Environmental Art at the Glasgow School of Art and later was awarded an MFA from the University of Ulster in 1988. She was on the committee of Transmission Gallery, Glasgow from 1989 to 1991. In 1993 she exhibited at the Venice Biennale and in 1997 she was nominated for the Turner Prize.
In 2004 Borland was one of five artists on the prestigious Glenfiddich Artist in Residence programme. Her work is permanently sited in public spaces including the University of Glasgow and Whitworth Park Manchester, is collected by national and international institutions including the Tate and is presented in 8 monographs and numerous further accounts of contemporary art.
From 2012-17 she was the inaugural BALTIC Professor of Fine Art (a collaborative venture between Northumbria University and the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art) She remains a Professor of Fine Art at Northumbria. In 2016 she was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters (DLitt) from the University of Glasgow and in 2020 she was a elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.
Christine Borland lives and works in Kilcreggan, Argyll.