The Cairngorms Kist: Capturing a landscape through community voice

Posted: 26th June 2024

During their Endangered Landscapes & Seascapes Artist Residency, with Cairngorms Connect, Elizabeth Reeder and Amanda Thomson collaborated with local communities to create a Commonplace Book for the Cairngorms. In this blog, Elizabeth and Amanda share their inspiration behind the project.

The idea for this project is a simple one: this incredible area is one that so many individuals experience and see in different ways. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to get a snapshot of this place to share that with others in future years? The pieces in The Cairngorms Kist have been created by people who live, work, or visit the area, and wanted to share what they see and know.

Commonplace Books, historically, are more like collages than bound books. They usually hold different documents and items together: maps, land registries, folk tales, music scores, records of flora and fauna and medicinal uses or folklore around them. Sometimes they contain recipes, and the artists like to think that they would have also include knitting patterns or guides about how best to sharpen an axe. By bringing together all these observations, records, documents, and images made by people who know a place deeply, Commonplace Books express a place both intimately and broadly. The idea is evocative: that a whole can be created of disparate parts.

Artists in Residence Elizabeth Reeder (left) and Amanda Thomson (right) weave part of the kist that will hold the Commonplace Book. Photo: Catriona Parmenter.

The artists set one rule: each submission was a maximum of two sides of A4. Other than that, participants had carte blanche to format their submission in any way they saw fit. They received a wonderfully diverse, heartfelt, and beautifully made set of contributions, from across the generations. This Kist is a glimpse of the Cairngorms at this point in time, but is also an open invitation to people who might want to return to these locations, and new ones, helping to mark changes in ecologies, people, communities and hopes, and create future Commonplace Books too.

The idea of a Commonplace Book is something the artists hope can be ongoing and replicated in 2, 5, 10, 20 years’ time. If you live there, you might be inspired to start to gather images and notes and think: what will I submit to the next Cairngorms Kist?

People viewing the exhibition showcasing all the submissions to the Commonplace Book at the launch event in the Spey Bank Studio. Photo: Catriona Parmenter.

Part of Reeder and Thomson’s inspiration is the hope inherent within Cairngorm Connect’s 200-year vision.

“200 years is longer period of time than most future planning scales, but it is small in ecological terms. We won’t be so bold to think that this book or project will still be here in 200 years or be replicated in 200 years – as this planet and this place might change beyond what we can concretely imagine now” explain Elizabeth and Amanda. “However, we want to believe that this place and the creatures who make it home will still be inscribing the landscape with life, and we’ll still be recording it in fieldnotes, diary entries, poems and songs, words and images. The Cairngorms Kist 2023, this Commonplace Book, is a record of here and now and it is partial and it is beautiful. This glimpse of where we are now is also a question and prompt for those in the future: ‘What do you see and hear and experience of the Cairngorms and what does this place mean to you?”

Throughout the spring and summer of 2024, an exhibition showcasing all submissions to the Commonplace Book is touring local venues. The Cairngorms Kist, made up of the originally submitted work, will be kept as archived hard copy, contained within a willow container, woven collaboratively in March 2024. There is also an online version which will be held on the Cairngorms Connect website soon.


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