RESEARCH | REALIZATION

RESEARCH: The cultural significance of rock cairns in storytelling and preservation.
REALIZATION: The central circle of story stones used to represent the stories of women who have come before us in the 2017 workshop showing.

The history of rock cairns is rich, holding significance in Scottish and Portuguese cultures in honoring, sharing, and preserving legacies. While some might be most familiar with seeing these stacks of stones along hiking trails marking a path, they also are used in burial monuments and shrines of local spirits.

In Scotland, it is traditional to carry a stone up from the bottom of a hill to place on a cairn at its top. In such a fashion, cairns would grow ever larger. An old Scottish Gaelic blessing is Cuiridh mi clach air do chàrn, “I’ll put a stone on your stone.” In Highland folklore it is believed that the men in the Highland Clans would place a stone in a pile before going to battle. Those who survived the battle returned and removed a stone from the pile and the remaining stones were used to build a cairn honoring the dead.

In Portugal, a cairn is called a moledro. Legend states that moledros are enchanted soldiers. If one takes a stone from the pile, places it under their pillow at night, by morning there will be a soldier, only briefly, until the soldier evaporates back into that same stone back on top of the pile. There are cairns called Fiéis de Deus, which are used to mark where someone has been buried, or where someone died.

In the 2017 workshop showing, ARTBARN developed a world in which women gathered together to archive stories of women who had come before them, as an act of compassionate resistance. Like in the Scottish and Portuguese traditions, rocks were used in this production to represent someone they had lost. Each day, the women would take a stone into their hands, tell and retell the woman’s story that was represented by the stone until it was memorized. This act of learning a legacy by heart was the training they needed to re-enter a world that would choose to forget them.