with Anke Buchmann
"My work is an investigation into arriving."
Anke Buchmann is a ceramic designer and founder of HANDFUL: an invitation to slow down and connect through clay. Her vision for HANDFUL was born when she moved from Berlin to London to study Ceramic Design at Central Saint Martins. Anke has grown as an artist and award-winning designer in London with work exhibited at group and solo shows in Berlin and London. She has inspired individuals, groups and creatives with her work and clay workshops.
With HANDFUL, you invite people "to slow down and connect through clay, while paying tribute to traditional craft methods and material insights". How did you come up with the concept of clay meditations? Why do you want to offer them?
During my studies at Central Saint Martins I paid more and more attention to the process of making itself. I was not only interested in the physical outcome after firing the ceramics. I also became interested in engaging with the different stages of clay, observing the material, learning from it and stepping into a dialogue between myself and the organic material. You see, clay is very body-like. When paying attention we can notice similarities to our own body, how it feels, how it moves, its flexibility and restrictions. If we pay attention we can learn a lot about ourselves and even life.
At the same time I wanted to look deeper into the idea that working with clay is a mindful activity. People keep referring to throwing on the wheel or touching the clay as being so meditative. But what makes an activity a meditative or mindful one? I believe the interaction with clay becomes meditative and mindful, once we put our focus and attention to it. That happens very intuitively when we engage in an activity for the first time, like visiting a beginners ceramic class. Then our beginner’s mind is activated and we are fully present in the moment paying attention to every little gesture and material change. But once gestures become normal and known to us, it takes focus, intention and awareness to not get lost in external thoughts or chats with studio members.
Overall, Clay Meditation is a method, informed by my studies at Central Saint Martins including material research, body clay experiments that I developed and my artistic performances in combination with my personal meditation and yoga practice and my experiences from a 10-day silent meditation retreat.
I look deep inside myself for inspiration. My investigations are informed by my personal experiences as a forced right-hander and the resulting challenges of this body-mind dis-connect.
I started working with clay when I was 6 years old. Clay became my teacher in so many ways. It helped me in difficult times of my life and allowed me to express myself in multiple ways. I want to inspire others to learn to slow down, to truly observe and listen to the qualities of clay. In our everyday life things like touching organic matter, having haptic experiences or tactile moments have become a rare good. We are losing a huge potential of our brain through the lack of gestures in our daily lives. At the same time we rush from one activity to the next while missing the beauty of the moment. I like to invite people to slow down, to reconnect again with the moment, themselves and their potential, while contributing to a more mindful and meaningful world.
"You see, clay is very body-like. When paying attention we can notice similarities to our own body, how it feels, how it moves, its flexibility and restrictions. If we pay attention we can learn a lot about ourselves and even life."
The name "handful" is a twist on "mindful". The idea is to practice mindfulness by getting out of the head (mind) and into the hands, as your slogans "muddy hands. clear mind." and "let the hands do the thinking" also suggest. How do you understand this mind-hand or mind-body relationship?
Thanks for looking deeper into the name HANDFUL. It is true the word is a reference to “mindful” and “hand” playing with the role of our hands in relation to mindfulness. At the same time one of the definitions of the word “handful” is – “a quantity that fills the hand”. I liked how the sound of the word lets us embody a handful of clay.
I came up with the name HANDFUL after I came up with the slogan. “muddy hands. clear mind.” came to my mind in 2019 when I was envisioning what values I wanted my services to embody. Coming from an advertising background I remembered an insight I learned from advertiser Walter Lürzer, who suggested, to allow people to feel into what they get from a product or service and the feeling that would come from using it. The sentence “let the hands do the thinking” is inspired by the book “The Thinking Hand” by Juhani Pallasmaa, which has informed my work strongly. In his book he describes that only through the unity of mind and body craftsmanship and artistic work can be fully realised. Every time we move our hands, new information is sent to the brain. Through the activation of our hands, we inspire our mind and let it grow. Often the hands know before the brain. I enjoy trusting the hands and the material in the process and allowing the state of not knowing. Staying open, curious and full of wonder lets us discover new routes while releasing feelings of joy and excitement. And of course, you will always be able to tell what energy goes into a ceramic piece.
"Through the activation of our hands, we inspire our mind and let it grow. Often the hands know before the brain."
What is the importance of materiality and tactility for the clay meditations and in your own practice?
The qualities of the clay and the curious exploration of it helps us to stay in the moment. Our focus can rest on the materiality, while investigating the features of the clay with our hands. At the same time, touching an organic material like clay makes the experience especially nourishing. After all, clay is part of the soil, from which life arises. It is full of bacteria and molecules that positively affect our body, mind and mood, when touching it.
And as said before, when we activate our hands through gestures, we reconnect to our lost potential. And we know it, we feel a huge desire these days to get our hands dirty and get out of our heads. We are longing for a balance of heady activities and physical ones.
You are a ceramicist yourself. How does your teaching and the product of clay meditations that you offer affect your own practice?
Being aware of the present moment and everything that surrounds us is, to me, the highest good. The work I do, be it making physical objects, creating embodied experiences, interactive performances or workshops, is about connecting to our bodies, experiencing fully, and becoming more present and conscious in every moment.
I follow a design practice led by concept, experimentation and observation. Synchronising my breath with my slowed down gestures allows me to create a dialogue between my body and the organic material clay while arriving in my body in the here and now. The results are a full body experience as well as objects that function as documentation of my lived experience, carrying my breath, my touch, my presence.
So I would say that it is more the other way around. My work as ceramic artist informs my work as facilitator and teacher. I love to inspire others to look deep inside for inspiration and find the answers within them, instead of looking externally.
"Synchronising my breath with my slowed down gestures, I create a dialogue between my body and the organic material clay while arriving in my body in the here and now..."
"...The results are a full body experience as well as objects that function as documentation of my lived experience, carrying my breath, my touch, my presence. "
What themes are you interested in and do you explore through your own artistic work?
We try to be fast in everything we do and often do more than one thing at a time. People often claim to be skilled at multitasking; reading an article while timing the eggs, talking on the phone and watching the TV program at the same time. Many potters throw multiple vessels on the wheel within the blink of an eye, letting their automated gestures do the work. We do things often subconsciously without really paying attention. My work is an investigation into arriving. I want to experience every moment fully. I use clay as a tool to arrive in my body and the here and now. Clay with its body-like characteristics, its willingness to be transformed while remaining true to its nature makes it perfect to draw connections to one’s own body. I let the material take over and transform each lived experience into something else.
"I want to experience every moment fully present."
"I use clay as a tool to arrive in my body and the here and now."
Do you do clay meditations as part of your own artistic work? Do you have other mindfulness or wellbeing practices that support your creative process? How do they help you?
Yes, I try to follow a creative routine which the clay meditation is part of. Other elements of my creative routine are to follow my inner pace. Part of it is to avoid early appointments to start the day following my inner clock rather than external factors. That doesn’t mean that I sleep till noon. It is actually the opposite. I try to get up 1hr early to be able to take it slow during the day. With slowing down comes also pausing. I learned the hard way, that to be productive in a sustainable way, it needs moments of doing nothing.
As much as I am in dialogue with the clay, I am constantly in dialogue with my body too.
I also make sure to connect to the outside world daily, including daily walks and conversations with people. It is important for me to stay connected and not get lost in my own world.
"Giving myself permission to be creative. Creating space and time for creative play and experimentation."
To you, what does it mean to be creative? Where does inspiration come from for you?
Giving myself permission to be creative. Creating space and time for creative play and experimentation. And connecting to myself through the material dialogue and meditation.
Inspiration for me comes mostly from inside. But part of my ideas come from truly observing, looking closely and never stopping questioning.
photos: Eglė Duleckytė
A PRACTISE PROPOSITION
by Anke Buchmann
– Clay Meditation –
HANDFUL is an invitation to slow down and connect through clay, while paying tribute to traditional craft methods and material insights. Following the invitation, we created a sensory retreat moment at home with the HANDFUL clay meditation kit. The booklet gives guidance into the exploratory journey, which then unfolds intuitively.
By feeling the clay with its tactile qualities on the skin, the sense of touch takes us deeply into the moment, as we become present in our body. This presence and reconnection offers an active but deep rest which leaves us recharged and inspired – to open our senses and engage with our surroundings more creatively.
photos: Luisa Bravo