handiwork

by Sara Baume

"I feel a great responsibility for time" Sara Baume writes halfway through handiwork, a sentence which I read and immediately put the book back down to think about. Impossible to read a sentence like that and not feel the great weight of time settling over you in that moment. Perhaps it is the fate of every book we read in lockdown becoming a lockdown book, but reading Sara Baume's handiwork as I did this month feels like a precedent, precious object to have in my hands. It is a book about making, birds, grief but also about the home and routine, about what environments we choose to surround ourselves with and what occupies our time. Baume's previous novel The Line Made By Walking was also broadly set within and around the confines of a house and deeply concerned with making art, straddling the line between visual art and writing. She writes in handiwork of the plaster birds that she makes day after day, the hours and repetitive gestures, she pores into her "daily handiwork" that: "sometimes it seems as if I might have begun my plunging my fists into the walls that enclose me — as if the plaster I carve had been pulled straight from the fabric of this house". I cannot help reading it, in lockdown, trapped within my own house, and wonder about the objects I have made here, that my home has contributed to the making of these. Would I have written this thing on this day if I was not in this place? For Baume, the home is a place of ritual and routine which organises itself around her activity. It holds both the tools and site of her own creations and that of her deceased father. Small objects which clutter the house, art materials stacked alongside the mundane objects of our lives: toothbrushes and kitchen utensils. What makes one thing utilitarian and another poetic? The house becomes the holder of all these ideas, the place where the domestic and the artistic rub shoulders, overlap and blur. I look down at the side of my desk to where our chopping board has been repurposed into a paper marbling board. I understand what Baume means. 

handiwork asks us to question what it means to create, why we might dedicate ourselves to writing, or painting, or knitting, to making small birds each day that accumulate and eventually must be packed away: "This house of industry" Baume writes, "is also a house of storage." Why do we do it? Baume asks, but it's not for her to say. Instead, she lets the reader into her domestic world of creatively, the silent unseen act of creating that often remain hidden and mysterious to others. The writing of the book itself hovers in the background, mentioned in passing, the evidence allowed to speak for itself as we hold it in our hands. She quietly questions what it is to create art, how such objects are imbued with meaning, that they are "governed by the quality of their story, and by how much care has gone into their making, and by how much they are cared for as a belonging." The artist carefully turns the object into art, but it's also down to us, how much attention we give it, how much we allow its story to figure in our own lives. The own daily handiwork we create. 

handiwork is out now and published by Tramp Press

You can also see Sara Baume in conversation with Sinéad Gleeson as part of the Cúirt Literary Festival


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