Chris­tine Bor­land presents a won­drous set of co­nun­drums

The Herald Magazine - - ARTS VISUAL - JAN PA­TIENCE

THE Power of Twelve cur­rently lurks around ev­ery crevice of Mount Stu­art on the Isle of Bute. Not only has Turner Prize-nom­i­nated artist Chris­tine Bor­land ti­tled her new ex­hi­bi­tion in this neo-Gothic man­sion around the num­ber, she has cre­ated a dozen art­works as a re­sponse to a por­tion of the building’s history dur­ing which it served as a naval hos­pi­tal dur­ing the First World War.

The Ar­gyll-based artist is cur­rently deeply em­bed­ded in the process of re­mem­ber­ing the “war to end all wars” as we head to­wards the cen­te­nary of Armistice Day in Novem­ber. As well as this new work at Mount Stu­art, a ma­jor com­mis­sion for Glas­gow Mu­se­ums as part of the UK-wide 14-18 Now pro­gramme will be un­veiled in Oc­to­ber. Part of the re­search for this com­mis­sion, which has given Bor­land un­prece­dented ac­cess to Glas­gow Mu­se­ums’ First World War col­lec­tion, has spilled into her new work on Bute.

Bor­land has form in Mount Stu­art. In 2003, two years into the Mount Stu­art Trust’s rolling vis­ual arts pro­gramme, she was one of the first artists in­vited to re­spond to the house and its col­lec­tions. Since then, her work has de­vel­oped and ma­tured, but beauty cou­pled with un­der­ly­ing lay­ers of mean­ing wait­ing to be dis­cov­ered by the viewer re­main a fix­ture of her art.

The first Bor­land art­work en­coun­tered by vis­i­tors to Mount Stu­art is called to The Power of Twelve, with Moss Pil­low. This beau­ti­ful work is nes­tled in the Mar­ble Hall, the domed cen­tre­piece of Mount Stu­art.

Su­per­fi­cially, with­out a back story, it is a beau­ti­ful thing to be­hold. We see a large cir­cle, framed by a pink “pil­low”. In­side this space there’s a host of glass spheres of vary­ing sizes. Light from 12 stained glass win­dows de­pict­ing the signs of the zo­diac re­fracts onto 144 glass balls. Sweep up the grand stair­case where the house’s bedrooms are nes­tled around vaulted Gothic arches which soar some 80ft into the air and you can look down on the work, which changes as the sum­mer sun moves its po­si­tion.

You do not need to know the back­ground to the work, but once you do know, it sheds light on so many as­pects of both the building and the First World War.

Delve into 12 and you re­alise the num­ber in­flu­ences not only in­flu­ences the struc­ture of this building, but our cul­ture, our lives, our re­li­gious cal­en­dars and our su­per­sti­tions. Our bod­ies have 12 pairs of ribs and the old im­pe­rial mea­sure­ments have 12 inches to a foot.

In this work alone, the pool of glass spheres is based on a 12me­tre deep crater made by a series of mines ex­ploded on the Messines Ridge in Flan­ders in 1917. Bor­land has cre­ated a pool here which is one-twelfth the scale of the sur­viv­ing crater, now filled with rain­wa­ter and pre­served as a peace memo­rial.

The 144 (12x12) glass buoys make you think of the wounded sailors who were once tended in the mar­ble hall. From Oc­to­ber 1914, it served as Mount Stu­art Aux­il­iary Hos­pi­tal’s Mid­dle Ward, ac­com­mo­dat­ing 50 beds for in­jured sea­men.

What must these men, most of whom were from hum­ble back­grounds, have made of the op­u­lent sur­round­ings in which they found them­selves? I have a vi­sion of a sick sailor com­ing to and gaz­ing up at the domed roof and the beau­ti­ful stained glass think­ing pos­si­bly he had died and gone to Heaven.

Like ev­ery piece of art I have seen made by Bor­land, there is beauty and a deeper mean­ing wrapped around the

Main im­age: Bor­land’s China Har­vest. Far left: Wit­ness Board and to The power of Twelve, with Moss Pil­low. Pics: Keith Hunter

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