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  • Writer's pictureNZ Booklovers

Interview: Catherine Bagnall and Jane Sayle talk about In the Temple

Catherine Bagnall is an experimental watercolourist, maker of objects and performance artist and a senior lecturer in the School of Design at Massey University, where she lectures in fashion, art and design. She lives in Wellington.

Jane Sayle has been a dealer in curios and ephemera, an art writer and reviewer and a lecturer in art and design history. After living in California, France and Germany for ten years she returned to New Zealand in 2019. She lives and works in Wellington.

Catherine and Jane talk to NZ Booklovers.

Your gorgeous previous collaboration, On We Go, was published in 2021. When did you decide to work together again on another one?

On We Go was a great experience, the designers really brought it to life and we knew straight away that we wanted to make another book together. The collaborative process was so fun and full and intense in terms of ideas and the many conversations we had. We knew we had another book in us.

They are the same charming size and format, but beyond that what needed to be different — what is different? — about In the temple?

In the temple is possibly darker or deeper in that the poems engage with death, the spirit world, ancestors, a parallel valley. In the temple is more floating and fleeting than On We Go, the paintings and poems are less anchored, but still full of hope and a very genuine love of this world. We hope In the temple evokes for the reader a magical atmosphere, a mythological world and enchanted places with powerful and intangible connections to other living and non-living beings and to history. We did feel a deep spiritual-ness, grief and joy; the wonder of being in the thick of it.

You are now more experienced at collaborating with each other than you were in 2019 when the work on On We Go began. Did this help you go deeper, or in new directions, this time?

Yes, it certainly did, but it still wasn’t easy and we worked even harder to make In the temple work. We had to dig deep and that is scary on some levels because it makes you vulnerable and you have to be open to trying things that might not work and go to places in yourself that can be hard to go to. But you know when you are not digging deep enough. Catherine spent an obsessive winter month working with the poems, painting right into and over them, then Jane spent a week by herself at the beach working on the order of the poems to get the flow right, and once we had that things started to come together.

Can you be drawn on the meaning of the title of the collection?

The title poem honours the act of sacred daydreaming in specially consecrated feminine places. And these places are to be found everywhere: special clearings in a forest or where a stream runs out of the bush, a stone ruin from antiquity or a home that suddenly shines when everyone else has gone out, a bay at dusk. And, crucially, this work is not to be interrupted.

As with On We Go, were the poems and the art works made independently of each other and yet through some miraculous and mysterious process seem made for each other once brought together?

In this book the poems arrived first. With the first draft Catherine leant towards illustrating them, but this didn’t work because it forced a kind of image–text relationship that felt wrong. After much discussion we decided that the poems and paintings needed to be connected as if we were both walking down through parallel but different bush valleys. Catherine literally walked through Gollans Valley and held this as a real and imaginary space to draw from while thinking about, and working with, Jane’s poems.

Who is the ideal reader of In the temple?

Anyone who wants to find enchantment and wonder and likes to ponder . . .

The world’s in a pretty rough state at the moment. Is there solace in these pages?

Arguably the world has always been in a rough state for many, or most, people. Today is for the living though and how to meet the challenges of that with grace and energy is the thing. Jane tries to make plenty of space around the poems for the reader to find themselves in; to console a stranger would be an honour, of course. Having said all that, we hope so.

But more than that? Perhaps a new way of considering things?

That’s really for people who read In the temple to tell us. We don’t feel new, though there is a lovely feeling of freshness and vitality that comes after spending time in the kinds of places we write and paint about, but then, that is also very old. It would be a good discussion!

These three lines in Five Ancestor Poems will surely stop readers in their tracks: I can’t hear myself think / for the whales singing in the harbour/ Where did that spring from?

From comments made by early English settlers to the Wellington area about how noisy the whales in the harbour were, how some days it was hard to even hold a conversation, and this seemed marvellous to me. I wondered if it could ever happen again in the future, whales calling their mysteries to each other for hours, and how I would lie awake with the windows open listening in the night. The poem is my calling card to Wellington, past and future.

Now it’s done and off to print: proud of it?


Massey University Press


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