Madeleine Bazil

Madeleine Bazil is a multidisciplinary artist and writer interested in memory, intimacy and the ways we navigate worlds - real and imagined. She is also the editor of Where the Leaves Fall’s Sunday slow-read newsletter, The Rhizome. Raised in the US and educated in the UK, Madeleine currently lives and works in South Africa.

Describe the nature around you at the moment.

At the moment I’m in my garden. Beside me: a sprawling bough of bougainvillea, a lemon tree, and sprays of autumn sage, star jasmine and wild irises. To one side the peak of Lion’s Head is silhouetted against the sky. I can just taste the far reaches of sea breeze, carried by the wind. I live right underneath Table Mountain, one of the New 7 Wonders of the world, and so tilting my head back I have a clear view of its crags and ravines, which shape-shift constantly in every permutation of light and shadow.

Name a place where you feel most at ease?

Over a home-cooked meal, with loved ones, deep in comfortable conversation.

How does nature influence your storytelling?

My storytelling focus, broadly, is the ways people and communities move through and inhabit worlds. That may be the natural world, and/or the worlds we create within ourselves or with one another. Geographies, and also psychogeographies in a more emotional or political sense. I’m very preoccupied by the ways that our environments can foment, echo or conflict with questions of identity and memory - both individual and collective. This relationship to place is at the heart of my recent documentary Grandpa Ernest Speaks, a meditation on my own family’s experiences of forced migration and intergenerational memory.

What are you interested in at the moment?

Of late I’m fascinated by the Wood Wide Web, the sophisticated mycorrhizal networks of communication between trees. Ever since I read Richard Powers’ The Overstory this time last year! I’m a little bit (read: a lot) obsessed with Suzanne Simard.

How can we understand ourselves as part of nature?

By slowing down and tuning into the natural world even (especially) when this feels at odds with productivity culture and capitalism.

To understand the role and responsibility and kinship we hold in nature, we must first pay attention and remember how to love it. Even simply noticing that it feels peaceful and fulfilling to sit in a patch of sunshine for 20 minutes, or walking barefoot on grass and observing how this calms the nervous system: these small moments, if we are awake to them, remind us that we are not separate from nature and its rhythms.

I’ve recently been making a renewed effort to learn the names of more flora and fauna around me. Aletta Harrison writes about this beautifully in Grasping the Nettle in Issue #11. How unnatural and strange it actually is to not know, or wonder about, what and who we cohabitate with - yet that ignorance is normalised for many of us, and it keeps us at arm’s length from nature. The more one gets acquainted with something, the more one grows to cherish and want to preserve it, I think.

What kind of ancestor would you like to be?

Dedicated to articulating and preserving the beauty and nuance of the world, and curious about its ineffability.

Name a book, film or podcast that blew your mind.

Two films that have blown me away in the past few months are Beba, by director Rebeca Huntt, and No Simple Way Home, directed by Akuol de Mabior - both directors’ feature-length debuts. Both documentaries are vulnerable, mesmerising portrayals of family, home, place and cultural/personal identity by young women of colour filmmakers.

What’s your favourite smell in nature? (question from #TheNatureKind interview with Ameena Rojee)

Oh, I love this question. Without a doubt, the smell of the ocean.

What question would you like to ask to the next person on TNK ?

If you could spend a day as a different species or life form, what would you choose and what would you hope to learn?

And could you suggest someone else or other organisations you admire that we could approach for #TheNatureKind?

I’d like to hear from poet and theologian Pádraig Ó Tuama. He engages with the world with such grace and wonder. I think he’d have some brilliant things to say.

You can find out more about Maddy's work via her website, Instagram and Twitter. Follow along with Grandpa Ernest Speaks on Instagram: @grandpaernestspeaks

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