Christine Borland, Cast From Nature, 2010–11, plaster, steel, plastered cloth, dimensions variable.

Christine Borland, Cast From Nature, 2010–11, plaster, steel, plastered cloth, dimensions variable.

Christine Borland

Glasgow Sculpture Studios

Christine Borland, Cast From Nature, 2010–11, plaster, steel, plastered cloth, dimensions variable.

With “Cast From Nature,” Christine Borland continued her ongoing examination of medical practices, focusing on depersonalization and the use of teaching aids such as simulated patients. A residency at Glasgow Sculpture Studios allowed the artist an extended period of time to develop a work in public. The project took shape as she began trying to unravel the mystery behind a nineteenth-century sculpture that was once part of the notable collection of the Anatomy Museum of Edinburgh University. Making full use of her contacts in the medical profession, she sought out the original plaster-cast sculpture, titled From Nature. She found it damaged and forgotten in the basement of the university medical school. The figure was originally cast directly from an anonymous body partially dissected to reveal the musculature of the chest, meant to be used as a teaching aid in anatomy classes. Borland was intrigued that the figure was displayed on a bulky plinth and posed like the body of Christ in a pietà, with abundant draping flowing across its hips.

Borland initiated her residency at GSS by creating two spaces—one serving as a casting studio and another designed as an anatomy theater where the public observed her working via a projected live stream. The camera was focused on the hands of Borland and her assistants as they constructed molds, experimented with castings of the entire figure, and carefully shaped hands and feet to replace those that had been damaged or destroyed in the original. The performative aspects enabled Borland to investigate current medical practices of remote learning, such as nonparticipatory surgical observation rooms—as well as to offer viewers the experience of witnessing a historical medical theater. Such theaters were historically not only private classrooms but were also open to the public; an admission fee was often charged.

Through Borland’s artistic refashioning, the original sculpture was transformed and dignified. Its drapery, although referencing the original, was not cast but remade by the artist. Liberating the figure from its heavy plinth, she placed it on a simple metal armature. The overall result, including the use of delicate white plaster, was ethereal. For the GSS exhibition, the artist installed two versions of the refabricated sculpture, the second in an inverted position. In one of them, the inside cavities are clearly visible, records of the process of the mold maker’s handiwork. Across the center of the space, the artist draped a swath of plastered cloth from wall to wall, separating the two sculptures. With “Cast From Nature”—which has been mounted in a new version at the Camden Arts Centre in London—Borland expanded her practice, developing theatrical settings with herself as a performer, and learning historical methods of mold making and plaster casting. Through this rigorous process, she astutely reanimated an anonymous and forgotten figure, transforming it into something universal and contemporary, and triumphantly restoring a sense of its humanity.

Lauren Dyer Amazeen