Endangered Landscapes and Seascapes Artist Residency - Cairngorms Connect > A Cairngorms Kist: A Commonplace Book

The Cairngorms Kist, a commonplace book of the Cairngorms in 2023

The idea for the Commonplace Book came from Elizabeth Reeder, and it's a project that we've both loved working on as part of our Endangered Landscapes and Seascapes Artist Residency. 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 this Kist are created by people who live, work or visit here and want to share what they see and know. Elizabeth and I ran a number of writing workshops across the Cairngorms Connect area in 2022-23.

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 we 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.

This Kist is a glimpse of this place at this point in time, but it is also an open invitation for people of the Cairngorms to create future Commonplace Books too. We set one rule: each submission is a maximum of two sides of A4. Other than that, participants had carte blanche to format their submission in any way they saw fit. We received a wonderfully diverse, heartfelt and beautifully-made set of contributions, from across the generations.

This Kist also serves as an invitation to people in the future, who might want to return to these locations, as well as including new ones, helping to mark changes in ecologies, people, communities and hopes.

This project was born from an Endangered Landscapes and Seascapes Artists Residency with Cairngorms Connect, between 2021 and 2024. The idea of a Commonplace Book is something we hope can be ongoing and replicated in 2, 5, 10, 20 year’s time. If you live here, you might be inspired to start to gather images and notes and think: what will I submit to the next Cairngorms Kist?

Part of our 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. 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?’

The Kist was launched at Spey Bank Studios, Grantown-on-Spey, on the 23rd March 2024, and many of us there worked with Helen Jackson to weave a willow box, made of locally sourced willows, with blaeberry and heather, that will hold the original submissions. Digital copies of the book will be created, and there will be a curated selection of submissions that will tour to Inverness, Boat of Garten and Insh Marches throughout spring 2024.

–Elizabeth Reeder & Amanda Thomson