Christine Borland is an artist who draws on the skills and expertise of other disciplines in her work, particularly from the field of science. Several early works referred to forensic science and the techniques used in solving crimes, made familiar through many a TV drama series. Other major works developed through direct collaborations and discussions with specialists in human genetics and other related areas of study.
A project entitled From Life, first shown at Tramway, Glasgow, in 1994, involved collaborating with a range of specialists, including medical artists and forensic anthropologists working on facial reconstruction, using both computer-generated imaging and portrait busts in plaster and clay. Borland’s starting point was the purchase from a medical supplies company of a human skeleton, which she then set about studying with the various specialists. The exhibition included both the original skeleton and a classical, bronze portrait bust based on the facial reconstruction process. The process was an attempt to return the anonymous object of study to being understood as a specific, individual human.
A related work, L’Homme Double was first exhibited in 1997. Borland asked six different artists, all sculptors, to make a clay portrait bust of the notorious Nazi war criminal Josef Mengele (1911–1979), known as ‘the Angel of Death’. Borland provided each of the six artists with exactly the same information on which they were to base their portraits: two grainy, black-and-white portrait photographs and some short descriptions of Mengele’s physical appearance. The portrait busts are all different, each presented on a simple wooden frame as if straight from the artist’s studio. Each is made of clay and left unfired, emphasising the overall lack of certainty and finality. When seen together, the six portraits do not provide a clear, recognisable, singular identity, but a number of possibilities.
With these and many other works, Borland has questioned how we identify truth, or objective, scientific fact and fused traditional, conventional forms and materials of art – such as the use of bronze or ceramics – with advanced, new technologies. Her work is always mindful of the fact that how we look affects what and how we understand.