21 November – 20 January 2002

The art of Christine Borland embraces scientific thought and research to explore the fragile yet resilient nature of human life. The methods and materials Christine Borland chooses for her art (such as spider-dragline filament, bone china, bronze, and glass) contrast with the gravity of the issues she addresses: genetics, individual identity, medical ethics and mortality. Christine Borland's immersion in the realm of science allows us to view contested issues and significant advances in unique and unexpected ways. At the core of Borland's practice is a strong curiosity about the underlying assumptions that guide scientific research and remain unexplored. Over the last decade she has collaborated with osteologists to analyze bone, experts in facial reconstruction to rebuild faces onto skulls, geneticists to explore prenatal testing and biochemists to explore cellular structure.

"The heart of what I am trying to discuss is very dark, very strong and passionate, and if you can reach that through quite a rational process, I think it becomes more powerful, and, importantly, more personal to the viewer."

The six artworks assembled for this exhibition present an overview of Scottish artist Borland's work from 1994 to 2001. Characterized by a formal, ethereal beauty, Spirit Collection: Hippocrates (1999) is composed of almost one hundred drop-shaped vessels containing a leaf reduced to a skeletal form by bleach. The leaves, suspended in a clear preservative solution, are from a tree Christine Borland happened to notice while visiting the Department of Medical Genetics at Glasgow University. The tree was grown from seeds of the Plane Tree of Hippocrates in Kos, Greece, where it is said that Hippocrates taught his students. In modernized form the Hippocratic oath remains an expression of ideal conduct for Western physicians, and it is the ethical terrain of medical research that Borland explores.

The Set Conversation Pieces (1998) are cast from obstetrical models in English bone china, which incorporates bone ash. Cradled in each pelvis, a fetal skull sits in a variety of childbirth positions. The patterns are Borland's adaptations of English patterns modeled on Chinese designs for the English market. Desirable in a markedly different way, spider silk, is used in Bullet Proof Breath (2001), a glass bronchial tree with spider-silk wrapped branches. Though it appears fragile, spider silk has a tensile strength greater than that of steel, and is being developed for potential use in ballistic-protection garments. Scientists continue to seek a way to mass-produce the filament.

Included in the exhibition, Second Class Male/Second Class Female (1996) traces the reconstruction of two heads from unidentified male and female skulls. The culmination of a series of projects focused on investigations conducted with police and forensic experts, Second Class Male/Second Class Female typifies Borland's approach. In all of her work, Christine Borland's impulse remains investigative rather than didactic.

Christine Borland was born in 1965 in Darvel, Ayrshire. She studied at the Glasgow School of Art and the University of Ulster. She has had recent solo exhibitions at the Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia (2001); Dundee Contemporary Arts, Dundee (1999), De Appel, Amsterdam; Fundação Serralves, Lisbon and Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Zurich (1998-1999). Her work has also been included in group exhibitions such as Partage d’Exotisme, Biennale d’Art Contemporain de Lyon (2000); Manifesta 2, Luxembourg (1998), the Turner Prize Exhibition, Tate Gallery, London, (1997) and Sculpture Project Munster (1997). Christine Borland lives and works in Glasgow.

This exhibition, organized by the AGYU, will travel to the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston, opening on April 15, 2002.

Funding for this exhibition has been provided by The Henry Moore Foundation, The British Council, The Canada Council for the Arts, The Ontario Arts Council, and The Toronto Arts Council.
Art Gallery of York University | Accolade East Building, 4700 Keele Street | Toronto ON M3J 1P3 | agyu [at]