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The Indigenous and Female Roots of Harvesting Flax

EDINBURGH — Dig, rake, sow, riddle, water, weed, pull, ripple, winnow. For her solo exhibition at Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, In Relation to Linum, Christine Borland created a sequence of rituals round these actions for the rising and harvesting of the flax plant, linum usitatissimum. The identify means “most useful”; flax seeds have many medicinal properties, whereas the fibers may be spun into linen, one of the oldest recognized varieties of cloth on the earth. Unable to sow flax on the Royal Botanic Backyard throughout its pandemic closure in 2020, Borland despatched packets of seeds to a gaggle of girls gardeners across the UK and requested them to hold out the identical seasonal rites as they nurtured their crops.

The ensuing exhibition responds to the processes of rising and harvesting flax, in addition to to Indigenous plant lore and female-held modes of information that might have been prevalent earlier than the trendy scientific-industrial period. In a newspaper publication accompanying the present, Borland explains: “The growers shared the seasonal rituals, which would have sustained both society and environment before the modern scientific and industrial era displaced the plant-lore of women as healers and makers of cloth.” Borland’s processes emphasize rising and preservation strategies that may be carried out in a home context, responding dynamically to the climate, the actions of birds and animals, and the growers’ private limitations.

Christine Borland: In Relation to Linum at Royal Botanics Backyard Edinburgh, set up view

To organize for the set up “Home Herbarium Specimens” (2020), Borland’s growers uprooted samples of the plant in full bloom and pressed them at house. Borland has delicately pinned the brittle specimens to the wall, the place they resemble a fragile esoteric alphabet of curling roots and linear stems, a functionless alphabet that’s however powerfully communicative.

Christine Borland: In Relation to Linum at Royal Botanics Backyard Edinburgh, set up view

Borland continues this investigation into botanical preservation strategies in “Home Spirit Specimens” (2020). To provide the work, she uprooted a flax stem day by day of the 100-day rising cycle and preserved it in Copenhagen answer, drawing on examples from the botanical gardens’ archives. The crops (preserved initially in vodka as a result of scarcity of industrial alcohol final summer time) look ghostly and pale in slim scientific glass tubes, forming a haunting narrative of repetition and development.

Within the black and white {photograph} displayed on the middle of the exhibition, Borland wears a tough linen cloak from which her physique emerges snail-like to understand a wooden-handled spade. The theatrical picture is a response to a portrait of botanist Sir Joseph Banks (who is known for accompanying James Prepare dinner on his first voyage), during which he’s depicted carrying a Maori ceremonial cloak acquired in New Zealand and woven from Harakeke, the New Zealand flax plant. Right here, Borland nods to the colonial context of the botanical backyard and the extractive method to flowers and Indigenous information that also lies on the coronary heart of a lot botanical science.   

Christine Borland: In Relation to Linum at Royal Botanics Backyard Edinburgh, set up view

Because the exhibition progresses, works reminiscent of “Dressing Room” (2021) give a touch of flax’s threadlike properties, the place bunches of line flax grasp from clay vessels like horse’s tails. Intriguingly, nevertheless, Borland’s exploration of flax’s materials properties stops brief of spinning it into thread or weaving it into fabric. It’s maybe a method of recognizing the exploitative, anthropocentric angle behind seeing the plant as usitatissimum — “most useful.” As an alternative, Borland presents a extra open-ended and responsive relationship between people and flax.

Christine Borland: In Relation to Linum continues at Royal Botanic Backyard Edinburgh (Arboretum Place, Edinburgh, Scotland) by October 3. The exhibition is curated by Emma Nicolson.

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