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An interview with our Artists in Residence

Robbie Synge, Elizabeth Reeder and Amanda Thomson are artists in residence with Cairngorms Connect, through the Endangered Landscape Artist Residency. They chatted with Sydney, Communications and Involvement Manager, about their work and residency, and our relationships with art, the environment and each other.

 Sydney: Let’s start with the basics…Who are you and what do you do? 

Robbie: I’m based in Nethy Bridge and I create things that tend to have physical or choreographic starting points. I work with people of different backgrounds and ages to make performance, dance, film and other things responsive to the context. I try to be playful in exploring difference and what bodies can do with each other, with materials and with environments. Developing more local activity is a key ambition at the moment!

Elizabeth: I’m a writer and place is really important to my work. Being within and paying attention to places helps me to write/to focus. Also, increasingly, as I live in the Cairngorms, these places – the woods, the waters, the mountains – have anchored my work in this important landscape.

Amanda: I’m an artist and a nature writer whose makes a lot of work about this part of Scotland. My first book was about how the old Scots language describes the natural world. A lot of my work develops from walking and learning about places and landscapes from those who live and work within them, and that’s what I hope to do during this residency.

 Inhabitants-RobbieSynge

Image (above):  "Inhabitants" camera trap imagery from Abernethy Forest. Credit: Robbie Synge.

SH: What attracted you to the Cairngorms Connect Endangered Landscapes Artist Residency?

RS: The shared 200-year vision a striking context to work within. That working on this plan fundamentally involves physical work and interventions in the landscape was, for me, a beautiful realisation. It embodies hope in a practical way. It’s also a brilliant opportunity to build relationships with local conservation organisations and local people interested in the activity and art-making, small steps towards building more participatory and audience activity in the area.

EKR: As someone who lives here and loves it, I am keen to contribute to conversations, writing and art that is helps us record what this place is now and to envision what this place might be 10, 60, 200 years into the future. The conversations and walks we have with locals and with people who work on the land, are a way to help us all think about what we want for these places in the future.

AT: I spend a lot of time walking and birdwatching and taking photographs around Abernethy Forest and the landscapes around it. Being part of Cairngorms Connect and learning about the work being done from the inside, and being able to spend time seeing and understanding different places from other perspectives is an incredibly exciting prospect. The idea of a 200-year vision, and the inherent hope that contains is both poetic and necessary and exciting to be part of.

 

SH: What role do you think artists and creatives have in habitat restoration?

RS: I think that’s a good question with many possible answers. That diversity of response is probably very healthy. From my perspective, it’s helpful to offer a breadth of ways to engage or gather so that people are included as comfortably as possible in to the conversations and activity. It’s also useful to keep an open mind as to who the agents of creativity are. There are so many ideas out there.

EKR: Our relationship to landscapes is often about observations, context and imagining what a place was or might be. Art and Writing are activities that help us explore and communicate connections of experience, knowledge and hopes. Their playfulness and ability to relate things in non-linear, abstract or absurd ways can be incredibly revealing and inspiring.  Art can make connections that sometimes the drier language of reports can’t bring to life and help us bring memories, histories, other knowledge to bear on our relationships with this place and the people and creatures who live here.

AT: I totally agree with Elizabeth and Robbie, above. How art can make different connections, reveal other stories and new ways of seeing things, and can reach other audiences. There’s so much of science, of ecology, that is incredibly beautiful and poetic, visually and in its content, and art, writing and creative perspectives can help draw that out.

 ELAR picImage (above): Abernethy woods in winter. credit: Elizabeth Reeder

SH: Does nature inspire your creative practice? How do the two overlap for you?

RS: I tend to work with moving and dancing people, which I suppose is nature itself. Outdoor natural spaces inspire and surprise me in making connections and learning about people and other species through moving and observing. I personally find it’s easier to care about the big, complex environmental issues through considering how my body relates to physical surroundings and others. Also, being in studios often gives me that blank-piece-of-paper fear!

EKR: Being outside helps me connect emotionally and instinctively, as well as helps me write. I better understand how things are connected in fundamental ways and how small things make a difference. For instance, volunteering with the RSPB has allowed me to meet a wide variety of people who are interested in giving back. Being outdoors, in the company of others, allows us to share our experiences and stories and help them take on lives and substance on their own.

AT: My creative practice has always been rooted in nature and the natural world; what I observe or experience when out in the wild. I’m really interested in the question of how we care, and I suppose at the heart of my work, I think that being attentive to the world helps us to understand it, and sometimes we have to notice, in order to care. Like Elizabeth, I volunteer at the Tree Nursery, and previously have mended fences and filled potholes and counted for capercaillie. Being outside, being able to watch, think, listen and feel is vital for not just my art and making, but for me as an individual!

51048635808_1b5ab627d4_cImage (above): The Cairngorms Connect Tree Nursery. Credit: scotlandbigpicture.com 

SH: Can you give me any spoilers as to what you hope to create/achieve/discover over your residency?

RS: I’m keen to pursue a few solo experiments such as recent tests with camera traps capturing some surprising images and other playful experiments with moving and film that I hope will also appeal to local people to join and bring ideas through workshops or regular practice. I’m looking forward to weaving ideas together more with Elizabeth and Amanda and revealing what and where outcomes become tangible. Difficult times, but a gathering of some kind would be lovely.

EKR: There will be a few outcomes! Some of our collaborations – between Amanda, Robbie and myself – will be shared publicly in the community. For my own strand of activities, I’ll be doing a series of writing workshops that will create a space for people to write into how we are in company with these places and people. I envision creating a document/project of our writings/images/experiences that can help us share our understandings of the Cairngorms as it is right now in 2021 and this may also include our hopes for the future.

AT: We all have individual practices that we’ll continue – for me it’ll be writing, and visual art, but there will be moments of intersections too, and it’ll be fascinating to see the ways that we might come together! I hope to accompany workers and do more fieldwork and do some informal interviews with Cairngorms Connect workers about their work and connections to place and the landscapes, gather a lot more images, film and insights, and see what I get!  Eventually a lot of our work will be archived in a website or blog, and hopefully we’ll be able to have some kind of exhibition too!

Robbie, Elizabeth and Amanda's residencies are one of eight residencies in landscape restoration projects in Europe, through the Endangered Landscapes Artist Residencies.  You can stay up to date with the work of Robbie, Elizabeth and Amanda through Cairngorms Connect social media and website. Keep an eye out for upcoming events, such as Elizabeth’s writing workshops, on our events page.

Robbie Synge website

Elizabeth Reeder Website 

Amanda Thomson Website

Main Image: "Nightscape" by Amanda Thomson

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Dec 16, 2021

Robbie Synge, Elizabeth Reeder and Amanda Thomson are artists in residence with Cairngorms Connect, through the Endangered Landscape Artist Residency. They chatted with Sydney, Communications and Involvement Manager, about their work and residency, and our relationships with art, the environment and each other.