Christine Borland is a Scottish artist who explores the fascinating intersections between art and medicine, life and death. One of my favorites is Five Set Conversation Pieces (1998), an installation of five ceramic pelvises containing fetal skulls, which Borland based on antique obstetric models.
The pelvises and skulls are made of bone china — a type of porcelain which traditionally contained real bone ash. Each set is hand-painted with an “oriental” pattern adapted from traditional 18th and 19th century English tableware derived from East Asian porcelain. The artist lovingly displays the pelvises on clear shelves, reminiscent of the way ladies of the period might have displayed their wedding china.
In those times, childbirth carried a high degree of risk for a woman, yet her value in society was inescapably linked to her ability to marry and reproduce. Instead of cups and saucers, Borland presents the female body as the thing which is most precious, fragile and commodified within the domestic setting.
Five Set Conversation Pieces (1998) by Christine Borland is now in the collection of the Aberdeen Art Gallery. The works were originally commissioned for Manifesta 2 in Luxembourg.
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