As Antipodean Encounters: Western Australian Artists and Taiwanese Culture and Tea Ware Exhibitions hit the Midland Junction Arts Centre, we got in touch with Lee Woodcock, one of the contributing artists to the Tea Ware exhibition and a regular teacher of pottery at MJAC. We spoke to Lee about the exhibition and his arts practice, and got a little hands on trying to make our own ceramic bowls.
Midland Junction Arts Centre
Midland Junction Arts Centre is a beautiful heritage listed building managed by the Mundaring Arts Centre for the City of Swan. During their relatively short operation, MJAC have been a welcoming platform to a range of artists new and developed. They have a wide range of exhibitions and ongoing workshops and development programs.
The Antipodean Encounters and Teaware exhibition opened August 11th, with an accompanying workshop run by Lee where participants were invited to learn to make their own teacups. Next in this program of events is the Tea Dao workshop with Henri Lebedev, an exploration into the culture history of growing, brewing and tasting tea, with a guided tea meditation to follow. The workshop takes place on Saturday the 25th of August.
The Tea Ware Exhibition
"Tea and the sharing of tea is celebrated by many cultures in very diverse and often ritualistic ways. Tea drinking habits can be found worldwide. After water, it is the most widely consumed drink in the world. In conjunction with Antipodean Encounters: Western Australian Artists and Taiwanese Culture, MJAC is celebrating the teaware and the art of ceramics."
Jenny Kerr, Claire Ng, Melissa Statham Ellero, Bernard Kerr, Lee Woodcock, Emma Vinkovic, Dee Parker, Alison Brown, Rie Yamauchi, Megan Evans, Amanda Harris and Denise Brown.
The Tea Ware and Antipodean Encounters exhibitions look to find a link across cultures through the enjoyment of everyday rituals.
Lee bases his artistic practice around the unpredictability and sense of terroir associated with a wood fired kiln.
"I make all of my clay myself, and try to source as much as I can from nature." he said, "The type of wood, time of year, placement, everything is a variable in a wood fired kiln. I expect about 50% of what comes out of my kiln to come out as I expected it to. It’s nowhere near as predictable as an electric kiln. You can’t be too connected to what’s in the kiln, you can think everything’s going perfectly, and still you’ll never find out for sure until you open the kiln."
Lee’s kiln spans around two hundred cubic foot and fits three hundred pots. When it fires, it runs for between seventy five and one hundred hours, all of which must be carefully monitored. He called his style of pottery "a never ending cycle of chopping wood, glazing pots, getting the kiln ready.”
Lee's teacup workshop on August 11th opened the Antipodean Encounters project, introducing a number of participants to the craftsmanship of clay as they made their own teacups and tumblers.
"I think people have a very strong connection with their morning tea or coffee. I make cups which fit into your hand, I find that connects you to what you’re drinking. when I make a teacup I grip it so it sits in your hand, it’s so nice to drink out of a style which warms your hands and fits nicely. "
As a self-taught artist, Lee started throwing pottery with a wheel he made himself. "I twist and bend my mugs, intentionally distorting them. It’s more traditional to try and be symmetrical, and beginners usually focus on roundness. I’m more interested in making triangular and square forms in the rim of my bowls."
Lee has been teaching for four of his five and a half years of pottery. "I’m lucky, I ride bmx and do gardening.” he said, “Most of the skills came fairly quickly."
"At the moment I’m doing a wheel throwing course across four wednesdays. We do three weeks of throwing then a final week on glazing. We’re looking into workshops on more sculptural works as well."
"We work on throwing with confidence, the hardest thing for beginners is the fear of the pot collapsing. We start without too much pressure to go as tall and thin as you can. They can refine their skills with practice, but getting the confidence on the wheel is the biggest part. “
Lee finished our interview by teaching us how to throw some rudimentary bowls on an electric wheel. We were surprised by the level of coordination and precision required, and came away with a new appreciation for the levels of craftsmanship behind many of the objects we encounter on a day-to-day basis.