Sara Baume lights up the moment - in neon

Sara Baume's textwork at the Sculpture Factory in Cork captures the feeling of many people frustrated by lockdown, writes Ellie O'Byrne

Sara Baume at her textwork at the National Sculpture Factory in Cork. Picture: Jed Niezgoda
Sara Baume at her textwork at the National Sculpture Factory in Cork. Picture: Jed Niezgoda

Stay safe. The new normal. In these uncertain times.

West Cork author and visual artist Sara Baume has been observing the emerging language of the Covid-19 crisis with interest.

“The language that’s grown up around all this is absolutely fascinating; all advertising language has suddenly tweaked itself in response to the coronavirus,” Baume says. “I think that was part of the problem for me. Everything I thought of sounded like a line from an ad for life insurance.

I couldn’t come up with anything snappy that didn’t sound like a jingle.” Baume had been asked to provide a line responding to lockdown for a text-based artwork which can be seen on the front of Cork’s National Sculpture Factory as a part of Midsummer Moments, the reimagined, socially distanced arts festival running at present.

The textwork, so sick and tired, is rendered in neon tubing. At sunset on the summer solstice, it slowly became illuminated, an amber colour chosen, Baume says, because it represents “uncertainty and hesitation.” The full text of the neon installation reads “So sick and tired of parsimony, we long for debauchery.”

“I was nervous about it, in light of all the things that have been happening with the house parties on college road and around the city generally,” Baume says with a laugh. “I was afraid debauchery would be taken for depravity.”

The essay from which Baume derived this phrase is a gentle and honest insight into lockdown that will resonate with many: Baume and her partner, a fellow artist, polish off a bottle of Baileys, a Christmas present they had intended on re-gifting.

“We were like, ‘f**k it, let’s drink the Baileys.’ It just seemed to embody the longing for excess but at the same time the fear of excess,” Baume says. “You know you’re not going to do anything wild, and you don’t really want to, but there’s this feeling of constraint.

“Suddenly our day is broken down into these units of time: you homeschool your kids if you have kids, you go for your 2km walk. There are constraints that we have in our life anyway, but we determine them for ourselves. Now someone else is determining them. It brings on a new wave of wildness.” As Baume normally works from her home near Skibbereen, she says her life has been “very unchanged by lockdown. The shift is psychological. Not quite knowing what’s coming down the line has changed my mind as opposed to my habits.”

“We long for debauchery, but no debauchery presents itself and so we return to the solace of our tedious routines, our habits of penury and preservation,” Baume’s essay concludes, a reference, she says, to the straitened circumstances artists often live in, a subtheme all the more relevant at present given the cancellations and disruptions arts workers have faced since the Covid-19 crisis began.

“Since my first novel came out, I’m able to make a living on writing, but it’s a crap living,” Baume says. “I think a lot of the artists who are able to live of their work do so because they live constrained by self-imposed habits of penury and preservation. So it’s a nod to that as well.”

Sara Baume.
Sara Baume.

For Baume, so sick and tired comes at a time in her career when she’s shifting from writing to sculpture, a shift she documented in Handiwork, her first published work of non-fiction, which was released, with no launch due to lockdown, in March.

Although Baume is best known for her success as a young author, with two novels and several short story awards under her belt, she originally graduated with a degree in Fine Art from Dun Laoghaire College of Art and Design (IADT).

Having taken the literary world by storm with her 2015 debut novel, Spill Simmer Falter Wither, and followed it up with the equally well-received A Line Made by Walking, Baume is rebalancing her life away from the solely cerebral considerations of writing and back towards the physical act of making – of handiwork – in the meantime.

She had her first solo exhibition as a sculptor in London in 2018.

She points out that there’s a certain irony, then, in so sick and tired being a text-based installation.

“I do laugh, because it’s my first piece of public art and it’s text,” she says. “But to be honest, I don’t see this as one of my artworks. It’s a line of my text in neon on a building, very different to my sensibility as a maker of stuff.”

* So sick and tired can be seen on the exterior of the National Sculpture Factory as part of Cork’s Midsummer Moments https://www.corkmidsummer.com/programme/event/so-sick-and-tired

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