Artist-Led Activity: Exchange Residency with Florence Dwyer

Our fourth and final instalment of this year’s Exchange Residency Programme hosted Florence Dwyer and her investigation into “Centring” on and off the pottery wheel.

Flo has written an overview of the ideas and processes she was exploring during her month-long residency and takes us through a re-cap of what happened at her hugely successful workshop:

Centred: placed or situated in the centre / having a specified subject as the most important or focal element / well balanced and confident or serene.

Through focusing on the process of throwing a ball of clay on to the pottery wheel, I questioned this idea of being ‘centre’ both as a physical act and in the mind. How can we recognise when we’ve reached this idolised state of being centred? How does it feel to be constantly pushed off centre? Does it help to be isolated to reach this state or can it be achieved collectively?

I spent time on the pottery wheel, re-teaching myself to throw, gaining an understanding of the process and the machinery itself. And through doing this I started producing a series of wheels, almost acting as prototypes which would force people to use their bodies in a specific way to power the wheel and to throw the clay. One you’d turn with a handle, one you’d power by kicking and the other you’d spin with your hand. I was drawn in by the wealth of information and DIY videos online of different approaches to people building pottery wheels for themselves, and the encouragement they provided for other people to have a go at doing the same.

Through spending lots of time in the ceramics room with the other residents who were also interested in the process of throwing, we started to have a go at throwing together, with one larger piece of clay. One hand would be on top, the other’s on the sides, pushing against each other, reading the subtleties of each others hands, figuring out when to push harder, or when to let go. All decision making slowed right down, more consideration was taken over each stage of the throwing process, it left less room for moments of clumsiness or wanting to give up. It made me question ideas of intimacy and how the clay brought two people together yet acted almost as a barrier between them. This allowed us to work with much bigger pieces of clay, using the force of four hands to push the clay into the centre of the wheel and required two people to power the wheel through strenuous kicking.

I brought these ideas and practices together in an event at the end of my residency, open to anyone of any age and ability, with no previous throwing experience required. I invited people to have a go on the six different human powered wheels – three I had made myself and three already belonging to SSW. I wanted to encourage people to have a go at throwing pieces together, to try out all the wheels and gain an understanding of what it feels like to be centred. I wanted to express that there was no pressure for anyone to produce anything; it was an exercise to get people to explore the process. It was great to see so many people turn up to the event and intermingle with different people around different wheels, sharing tips and getting stuck in with helping each other to throw.

Thank you to Yvonne, Sam, Annie, Beth, Uist and Eden for all their assistance in production and organising. Thank you to everyone that attended and participated in the event. And special thanks to all the other residents for all the throwing help and for making it a great month.


And a huge thanks to Flo for leading such an enjoyable workshop, Lumsden is still talking about it! Lorna Campbell, who was also on residency in September, captured the chaos wonderfully – thanks Lorna.

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