In Haunt

Inspired by the dramatic Northern seascape and layers of history lying at the heart of Morecambe Bay – the area in which she is based – Sarah Hymas creates a range of artistry resounding with nature, going on to engage with place on a national and international level.

Sarah Hymas She is also part of Rural Eerie: The Strange Countryside Explored through Sounds and Words - an immersive evening of readings and a soundscape created by Manchester’s own hauntronica trio Flange Circus on the 19th October at The Peer Hat in Manchester (an event presented by Flange Circus, MASSmcr and Haunt as part of the Gothic Manchester Festival 2019).  Here she will be reading some of her work, with other writers involved including Andrew Michael Hurley, Helen Darby, Richard Skelton and Mark Pajak. Tickets can be booked via the link here, over the phone (please contact Lucy Simpson on 0161 247 6740) and tickets will also be available on the door.

One of the key connections Sarah is keen to explore is our relationship with the sea. In terms of the concept of ‘Rural Eerie’, this stirs up questions such as: is the sea a rural space or does it resist such definition? Is it a ‘space’ at all? And, in this light, does our inability to express and define it create a kind of eeriness?  Sarah’s words convey both wonder and care, weighted with experience of the environment and preserved in her artistry, including intricate hand-stitched pamphlets.

Although Sarah will be reading some of her poetry as part of Rural Eerie, she is no stranger to exploring the natural world through a range of forms either, celebrating creativity – with artistbooks, films and immersive walks also a feature. She has hosted imaginariums, highlighting her interest in engaging others with place and process – and themes of ecological awareness and historic depth permeate her work.

Just some examples of Sarah’s fascinating previous projects include Frankenscience of Poetry – a  piece fusing writing, science and filmmaking together, whilst Ripple  became part of a GFEST exhibition at London’s Menier Gallery; a triptych in the form of interactive poetic sculptures considering the impact of climate change on the Indian subcontinent.

 It is clear that Sarah’s passion for exploring place and human impact upon it have taken her far and wide, through a fascinating range of artistic encounters. In 2017, she played a part in Aberdeen’s SPECTRA FESTIVAL, creating The Seventh Door– an immersive audio walk set at the heart of this famously granite-clad Scottish city, whilst in recent years she has also received funding from the NWCDTP to research critical and creative approaches to writing about the sea.

Yet despite such wide-ranging and far-reaching work, Sarah is still based in the North, close to Morecambe Bay – the area that frequently inspires her. She also practices as a celebrant. Haunt decided to speak to Sarah to find out more – and why coming to Manchester to reflect on the themes of ‘Rural Eerie’ matters to her…

How does your work connect with  the concept of the ‘Rural Eerie’ would you say -  and what sprung to mind when you were presented with this concept?

"Eerie as uneasiness seems to be my default position in relation to the changes I am witnessing and experiencing in our current environmental crisis. I live on Morecambe Bay, where rubbish - in familiar and unfamiliar forms - is washing up daily, fishermen talk of diminishing fish numbers, the saltmarsh changes shape from year to year and the seawall bears the brunt of storms. Change, uncertainty and a slow threat to the place I live in and love is a constant underpinning to my being here. 

"'Rural' is more tangential in terms of my work as I write mostly about the sea, and our interdependence with it, either knowingly or inevitably. And while the shoreline could be considered rural, at the edge of the countryside, how might we term the pelagic ocean? It impacts the rural (and urban) with its carrying of wind and rain, but it is not explicitly rural. Its remoteness, unpinabledownness is why I'm interested in the ocean. It is a mighty body of water, covering over two thirds of our planet, upon which we are reliant for our survival, yet barely know or understand. Of course as the human need for more rare earth minerals grows there'll be more investment in exploring the seabed. But it is not an easy place to explore. It resists us. In constant flux, it demands a reflexivity to live alongside it. Such an adaptive and responsive mode of living will, I believe, serve us well in the coming years when our worlds will change more and more as the climate changes."

Why do you think it is important to engage with this relationship creatively?

"I think poetry has the potential to offer new ways of being in the world, imaginatively, perceptively, consciously; and we desperately need new ways of being - our current habits of exploitation and hierarchical thinking are outmoded. I try to find new avenues of embodied thinking in my work, push my sense of self into new shapes and relationships, exploring less boundried understandings of my experiences. I hope these may find traction with readers and listeners, that the work offers a strength of connection between us humans and the more-than-human. We are a very small element, in some ways, in the planetary ecosystem, and seem to have developed a skewed sense of our importance and capacity in the world, to put it mildly. I attempt in my work to decentralise the humanist perceptive, as much as might be possible, when writing from such a perspective."

By Sarah Hymas

Much of your work embraces multiple formats – for example combining words with cut-ups and sound. Do you think this eclectic approach has enhanced your engagement with place… and is poetry/writing typically always the bedrock point for you?

"Both my work in artistbooks and audio collaborations allow me to reconsider the relationship between text and space and text and silence, which goes back to what I was saying above in questioning the position of humans (and their desire to name and fix through language) within the new worldings they find themselves a part of. The experience of new worldings, or perhaps more accurately co-worldings, is advanced for me in the making of text-based artistbooks and collaborative audio soundscapes. Each encourages me inhabit physically the work, perhaps more so than words on a page, and keep the sense of unfolding alive. To be actively engaged in paper folds or with a musician who responds to words so differently to how I do, ensures I do not forget how everything is constantly unfolding, revealing or concealing itself from my perspective. 

"As for whether writing is a bedrock, it has been so far. Although I am increasingly interested in the sculptural forms of paper and how that works with text, and I'm open to how that will develop in my work."

Can you tell us about some of your current work and any of your upcoming projects?

"I have a new collection of poetry out next year with Waterloo Press, which I'll be reading poem from on Saturday evening, so am looking forward to road testing them. It continues my explorations into how to engage with the ocean, how I might imaginatively, creatively expand a sense of self and place, and where this might unfold. I'm hoping it manages to hold many of the principles of the artistbooks I've made while being a traditional flat page book. We'll see! 

"Another project in its very early stages is a prose project - at the moment - who knows what it'll become? I turn up everyday to bash out words, knowing approximately what I want to write about - forms and degrees of violence - while being totally in the dark as to what it'll be eventually. That's very liberating and exciting."

To find out more about Sarah Hymas, visit her website

By Emily Oldfield 

Photography - Image 1: thanks to Floris Tomasini, Image 2: thanks to Sarah Hymas

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