For the past two years, Australian artist Kate Scardifield has been fossicking in the collections of some of Scotland’s most interesting local archives. Not a bad job, if you can get it, you may think. There are treasures there, not least for anyone who is a lover of the cabinet of curiosities that is the local museum, for it is in such places, with their diverse holdings, that you find the jarring idiosyncrasies of human cultural evolution. It is in local museums that Roman jewellery abuts a malformed foetus in a jar, or where letters from wildly famous local authors sit in a glass case full of black and white photographs of their childhood next to a display on charcoal burning. This is the stuff of lives lived and it is this essence which Scardifield reworks in this touring exhibition, “Ley Lines”.

Scardifield has been nothing if not thorough, working in archives as diverse as St. Andrews and Hawick, amongst the six local collections which have formed the basis for her exploration of cultural and other connections between Scotland and Australia, reframing them in a new context. The starting point was a five week residency in 2016, “delving into cavernous museum storage facilities,” she says, looking for the untold stories beyond the “grand historical narratives”. The result, for the Sydney-based artist, is a series of exhibitions over the last year of which Falkirk is the latest and last incarnation, each instalment of the “tour” based on new archive material pertinent to place.

There is doubtless much meat in the archives of Falkirk, a huge centre of Roman and pre-Roman activity due to the location nearby of the Antonine Wall, but also of mediaeval and industrial archaeology and history. And there’s always Wallace. The starting point for all these exhibitions has been the Scottish astronomer and sometime Governor of New South Wales Sir Thomas Brisbane (1773 – 1860), whose works have been the basis for Scardifield’s own new artworks. There are sculptural pieces, textiles and video works, for her practice is inherently cross-disciplinary.

“The metaphor I began to use in my thinking and that continued to underpin the conceptual rationale for this project is of each collection as its own celestial configuration, its own unique constellation of knowledge,” Scardifield says, nodding to Sir Thomas Brisbane in her vocabulary for the project. Practically, that means the works arranged in such a way in each gallery as to throw new light on the created pieces which remain at the core of the exhibition, as well as illuminating in some slant fashion the pieces from the archives in which she has worked. Objects are chosen, points in a vast history, and reimagined. There is, too, a strong connection to Australia at the heart of the exhibition, directly linked to Scotland through history and the genesis of the modern state.

Scardifield’s practice is one of repetition and research, mining history for “intersecting systems and patterns that culminate in reimaginings of the body, site and space” within which she is working. Her processes are frequently labour intensive, deliberately so, her interests lying in making and iconography and the idea of the art object as displaced “sacred relic” or effigy, a surrogate in some way.

In Falkirk, Scardifield has selected works from the Community Trust archives and collections, “the ones which fascinated me,” she says, simply. Whilst she looked through many diverse items, including political and trade union banners, which speak to the textile works she has created for the exhibition coloured with natural dyes made from Australian plants, her other final chosen objects include “Fred”, a cinerary urn with a face mask from Camelon Roman Fort, a site located approximately a mile north of the Antonine Wall and close to Falkirk. Dating from the period 140-160AD, the period when the site was reoccupied after the first short-lived Roman presence in the late 1st century AD, the somewhat unsettling object is deeply moulded and cut, with the shallow impressions of a beard and ears.

Scardifield has also scoured the Roman holdings for pots with graffiti. Scratched into the surface after the pot was made, the graffiti is about identification, sometimes of ownership, sometimes, as with the amphorae used to store olive oil amongst other things, simply practical, telling the amount of oil in the vessel.

If the objects themselves are diverse, the links come in the marks of making that are on all of these objects. It works, say the curators of the tour, to “temporarily revise” the classification of the objects she has chosen in light of her own art, “reappraising their individual history in order to unearth hidden narratives of people and places” – the history in the everyday.

Sarah Urwin Jones

Kate Scardifield: Ley Lines, The Park Gallery, Callendar House, Falkirk. 01324 503772 25 Aug - 21 Oct, Daily 10am – 5pm (Closed on Tuesdays)