Studio Diaries / Rosa Nguyen
The ceramicist's creative routines during London's third lockdown.
The Design Edit (TDE): What is your daily routine at the moment? Are you working at home, or can you go to a studio?
Rosa Nguyen (RN): Generally, the weeks have been busy divided between teaching and studio days – though these are now polarised between a physical and virtual reality with long sedentary periods at home on a computer, remote Zoom teaching. I‘m lucky I have a great studio just a 35 min walk away from my home in South London, which takes me across the wild plantations of Burgess Park.
Last November, I got busy organising drawings and sculptures for my ‘Flowers of Romance’ exhibition at White Conduit Projects space and I recently installed a new wall tableau for ‘Crafting a difference – The Collect Edit’ at SoShiro gallery. The tableau ‘Histoire Naturelle’ is curated with pieces I made over the last 15 years. It’s been so great to part of such a big show, working to a set deadline and physically installing the work in a new space.
I usually work alone, although just before the pandemic I started a small studio collaboration with an artist friend making cyanotypes with our plant collections and my glass and ceramics. It was a really exciting creative exchange that, though sadly shortened by the lockdown constraints, left me buzzing with ideas that have kept me occupied throughout the third lockdown.
TDE: How have you adjusted your life during this pandemic – what has been easy and what difficult?
RN: Looking back it has been a year of constant adjustments which, in retrospect, I realise I have been able to adapt to without too much difficulty. The biggest challenge during the pandemic has been spending more time at home teaching art remotely – which is intense, time-consuming and energetically draining. I live in a Victorian flat that I share with my husband who is also an artist. He has his studio at home next to our bedroom, which I have appropriated for all my Zoom activities as it has a good WIFI reception. I count my blessings for having the sacred space of my studio and having company – unlike my 82-year-old mum who has survived a year of lockdown living alone in a tiny flat in Paris. I haven’t been able to see the ‘real’ her since last July, except during our daily mobile Whatsapp video call – usually at aperitif time. In this case, I am grateful for the technology of mobile phone!
TDE: How do you keep yourself creative and optimistic?
RN: Generally through activities that connect me to nature. I also practice sitting meditation and drawing stones. For the past 18 years, I have been practising the Japanese martial art form of Aikido – I have three black belts. Sadly, my club closed at the start of the pandemic, but fortunately early last year I enrolled in a Tai Chi and Qi Gong class, which went into Zoom mode during lockdown. I practise every day and Wednesday is Zoom Tai Chi class night in the bedroom. We practise along to all types of music and in the last 15 minutes we become white cranes or swimming dragons to disco music! It’s physically challenging, mentally elevating and spiritually inspiring – I thoroughly recommend it for those who love dancing.
I stumbled on the poetry exchange podcast two years ago and fell in love with many new poems. I usually listen to them when I wake up. They go deep and clear away those reoccurring early morning pandemic blues and anxieties. I also listen to the astronomy podcast just before going to sleep. It gets me to the stars quicker!
TDE: What is the high point of your working day?
RN: I guess the high point of my day is when I’m in the zone, lost in the activity of making work. This could be anytime, but it’s usually after I’ve settled in my space and contemplated something I’ve been working on the day before, while playing the right music. The trans-like repeat sounds of Steve Reich, Alice Coltrane and Bach cello suites are current inspirations.
TDE: What are you working towards at the moment?
RN: I haven’t made any fired ceramic work for a year but have concentrated on drawing, which has become a kind of ritualistic everyday practice. The studio is currently transformed into a semi photographic darkroom as I’ve started working on a new series of cyanotype and clay images. They have something to do with the eight brocade Qi-gong movements and visualisation, the moon and plants. I’m experimenting with lots of clay gesso and glaze dipping and dripping on paper. Last week I received a big box of winter cuttings collected by the head gardener of Piet Ouldolf’s garden at Hauser and Wirth in Somerset. My plan is to bring them back to life for a show at Make Hauser and Wirth scheduled some time for late Autumn.
The Guest House by Rumi
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.