handiwork by Sara Baume

Baume’s handiwork is a poetic biography of creative practice situated within the astute contemplation of life, loss and living.

Words by Millen Brown-Ewens

‘I have always felt caught between two languages, though I can only speak in one’ writes Sara Baume in handiwork. ‘The one I can speak goes down on paper and into my laptop, in the hours before noon. The one I cannot speak goes down in small painted objects in the hours after. The more I need to explain, the longer the documents become, the larger the assemblages.’

At the root of Baume’s practice is precisely this. A certain duality of articulation which manifests itself within both her writing and artwork. handiwork then, is where the two dovetail. In her first work of non-fiction, Baume chronicles the process of artistic creation, it’s trials, tribulations and triumphs, concerned specifically with one project to amass a flock of model birds.

In this short, introspective narrative, Baume allows herself and the reader to draw metaphorical comparisons between birds and art which place her compositions within the context of everyday life and nature. handiwork thus fits quite nicely into her existing repertoire- Spill Simmer Falter Wither and A Line Made By Walking, also published by independent Irish publishers, Tramp Press. Both individually and as a collective, Baume’s work is centred in these same vivid comprehensions of the natural world and the life it nurtures.

It comes as no surprise that she credits is the renowned naturalist, William Morris as one of her mentors in practice. In one instance she writes- ‘I consider myself a disciple of Morris- for his doctrine of truth to nature and to materials, and to people. Art must arise from daily life, he believed’

In response to Morris’ views, Baume favours observations of the migration of her ‘daily birds.’ In a somewhat humbling depiction of self, her models complete an aviary of pigeons, northern wheatears and eastern phoebes amongst others. What elevates these birds past the mundane in Baume’s eye is the ‘poetic coincidences’ that she stumbles upon in learning of their habits. For the reader, these are guided by a series of expert quotations comprising a compendium of birdlore.

And so, the structure follows. That is if you desire any structure at all. Short snippets of prose are presented in a sort of question and answer between the inveterate temperaments of a bird’s migration and the responses of the artist to the demands of their routine. Baume extends beyond the surface of the topic of migration in birds, offering an unpolemic observation of life and its patterns.

Initially these observations come across as rather unconsciously holistic apprehensions, almost coincidentally profound. But as you progress, you are reminded that this is a credit to Baume’s gentle literary flair. She possesses an ability to make one feel connected to the expanse of life through extremely personal and often unassuming experiences. Drinking from a cup of paint tainted water for example, and how this comes to symbolise the subliminal processes of making and their interaction with the function of daily life.

‘I am making a sequence of small decisions almost unconsciously’ Baume muses.

Most notably, from her own experience she reflects on the devastating processes and effects of grief and loss. Having lost her father to a short battle with cancer in 2016, Baume presents handiwork as a eulogy of sorts. One which pays tribute to his work, craft and doctrine of practicality. ‘From my Dad, I inherited a propensity for handiwork’ she writes.

It is through the recollection of Baume’s father and his ‘unlovely yet practical’ craftsmanship that she signifies yet another theme foundational to both of her languages. That being, the sanctity of the workplace and the tools that fill it.

handiwork is a book that honours the importance of both. Baume ascribes to each tool a sense of purpose that is equally adopted by the artist as soon as soon as it is in use. In a similar way, she personifies her workspace as individuals of varying importance to her art each with their own role to play.

She further explores this very notion of purpose for an artist and creator in asking; ‘if my Grandad was wood and my Dad was iron, then what am I?’ For Baume, establishing a ‘vocabulary of materials’ appears essential to her practice. In connecting so resolutely to her art, she is offering no less than a raw version of herself, vulnerable to the same altercations that are inevitably to be made in the genesis of her birds. ‘When a bit breaks off, as bits often do’ she says, ‘I hear myself cry out, as involuntarily as if it was a part of my body that had snapped, not a nub of plaster…’

Laced throughout Baume’s non-fictional debut and in each and every aspect touched upon here, is time. The essence of time for the artist and the process itself. How time feels lost in grief and how time is spent in life, in the migration of birds. Feeling a ‘terrible responsibility for time’ Baume is a writer who explores her practice in its stages. Like her writing, her steps are measured. handiwork therefore triumphs. It triumphs in showing an appreciation for the struggles and successes that are to be found in the repetitions of life and it most certainly triumphs in the anapaestic storytelling behind creative practice.

handiwork by Sara Baume is available to buy now.

Images courtesy of Tramp Press

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