_ _ Forensic
Christine Borland‘s new show at Glasgow‘s Tramway involves
rebuilding a skeleton’s face. She talks to Beatrice Colin about her
‘l had a cast of the head in my bag.‘ says a friettd of artist Christine Borland who helped with her project.
‘And I saw her on the bus. She got off at
l’ollokshaws.‘ Bringing a person back to life is the stuffof Gothic horror novels. In Borland‘s project l’mm Ari/k). after a lengthy process with forensic scientists. laser-beams. tnatchsticks and clay. the £800 skeleton the artist bought from a medical supplier. has asstnned an identity. A face has been recreated and a person has appeared froru the boxes of bones. ln Borland‘s show. life has come from death and the cast head of a proud and beautiful woman is the focus of a remarkable project.
‘The body will be present. and the whole show will be contained in l’ortacabins. as if it is the scene ofan incident.‘ says Borland. A guide will show you round and there will he talks. demonstrations or a slide show which documents the process. in the final presentation. the images of the face from the computer reconstruction and the clay head are taken a step further into art and the clay head has been
turned into a bronze.‘
Borland and the scientists she has been working with have been involved in a lengthy and delicate process. They have established that the skeleton belonged to small Indian woman who was between 23 and 25. ‘What you start off with is a plaster cast
of the skull.‘ she says. ‘lfsing charts and
measurements they work out how thick to make the skin and then build up the muscle groups. Only the final details are down to the intuition of the specialist who‘s working on it and that‘s where science and art cross over. It‘s really incredible to see it build and
when he rolled on the skin. suddenly it was a person.
It was a really strange experience which I found quite
This show is a logical progression in Borland‘s ’ work. A graduate in environmental art. her projects are usually site-specific and concerned with society's underbelly. crime and details of forensic procedures. One piece in an exhibition in Germany featured a series ofglass pieces. shattered by gunshots ﬁred by local policemen. Another in Newcastle included samples ofearth. tyre tracks and other evidence. ‘ collected frotn a tiny area by the city‘s forensic
‘We are all familiar with guns and their results. but in a kind of mediated. second-hand way.‘ says Borland. ‘l'm interested in looking at the processes which are hidden from public access.‘ Along with other artists who work with the human
body. such as Helen Chadwick and Damien Hirst. Borland is pushing and thrashing through the boundaries of what is thought of as art. ‘I feel liberated'. she says. ‘Along with my some of my peers all over the world. I'm dealing with real-life situations or using non-traditional mediums. materials or processes. And it‘s opened everything
tip. As for the other argument that it‘s elitist: the
opportunity for engagement is so much greater. It is more readily accessible as it comes frorn a starting point that has something to do with everybody‘s life.‘ in this haunting but fascinating show, Borland concentrates on re-humanising a commodity. of immortalising an anonymous skeleton with an unknown history. Instead of the work coming from insidefa torrent of personal torment or elation. this piece is a creation in a physical sense. throwing all
the weight of playing God backwards into the air.
‘My work's not autobiographical. but about things outside myself which affect me.‘ she says. ‘lt's like this.‘ she says tracing a inwardly-twirling spiral in the air like a target.
From [.1]? is (1/ NW 'I‘I'ttniii'tri'. (I/(tsgmi' [ill/if 27 Not:
:- A still life
‘Don’t remember me as a spinster,’ said the elderly woman to her neighbour. ‘Let’s just say I’m a photographer.’ The life of Margaret Watkins is the stuff of classic drama. Once an established female photographer and one of the pioneers of the American Modern movement along with Alfred Stieglitz and Max Weber, Watkins came to Scotland to visit three elderly aunts in 1928 and for some reason, stayed. Only in 1967, plagued by money problems, after a lifetime spent in obscurity, did she realise she was never going to return to flew York and unpacked her suitcases. A box was left in the care of neighbour Joe Mulholland, which
Margaret Watkins' ‘The Kitchen Sink' 1919
she requested to be opened after her death. Four years later, he found it under a bundle of towels in a
cupboard and was amazed at what was
This show is a small selection of her work. Still on the original mounts with her written comments on the back, the pictures are fascinating. As well as a testimony to a considerable and well- developed talent, they resound with a strength of character and immense intelligence.
Watkins studied and taught at the Clarence White School where theory as well as the practicalities of photography were taught. Here, in rich sepia tones, numerous portraits, still lifes, nudes and landscapes taken in 1920s Greenwich Village and 1930s Russia are filled with atmosphere, but rely on a simplicity of form. Watkins went on to concentrate on design and used photography to define decorative details which she intended to use for fabric and floor coverings.
But apart from the quality of the
prints, the subject matter which Watkins chose was also innovative. Kitchen sinks and domestic interiors, the landscapes which women traditionally inhabit, anchor their aesthetic appeal in the clank of the shadow of a milk bottle or the swish of l a curtain in the wind. These works provoked an outrage at the time as nothing so lowly as a milk jug had been judged worthy of an artist’s attention.
Watkins would have loved this. In her self-portrait, she gazes down at the lens with a withering look of disdain. 0n the back she wrote, ‘neither touch up or paint to the semblance of a snake-eyed vamp.’ She must have known she’d be rediscovered one day as a young, talented photographer, not remembered as a disappointed old woman. (Beatrice Colin)
Margaret Watkins is at Street level until 5 Nov
The List 7—20 October I994 61