This week on Between the Sheets we're talking with Aviva Rowley, a ceramicist, photographer and florist based in Brooklyn, New York. In between her stints in the floral biz, Aviva hand-builds totemic clay vases and objects under the moniker Wet Vessels. Playful, serious, sensual and stoic all at once, her work is prolific and also available for sale in her web shop. (We loved it so much that we asked her to photograph our site header in 2018—see above!)
Read on for Aviva's thoughts on the role of the senses, intentional intimacy, and how to stay grounded in New York...
Hey Aviva, tell us a bit about yourself!
I’ve always been in the arts, I got a BFA at Cooper Union and kind of fell into the flower world while I was still in college, and it stuck! Nine years later I am still mystified by the alien things Mother Nature creates. I loved how ephemeral flowers are as a material, but I wanted something more lasting. I started working with clay because I had an idea of something I wanted to make (a hanging saucer) and needed a way to make it. My mom is a psychologist but always did pottery, I grew up with a kiln in the house and my hands in clay. I just love the feeling of clay, working with something so soft that becomes so hard (wink wink). I've experimented with many mediums in my life, from painting to photography, to pinning insects. But clay has by far been the most satisfying for me.
Building with clay, you must be really in tune with your sense of touch.
I’m very, very in tune with all of my senses. I do love touch, and it's obviously integral to my work. I hand build all of my vessels and there is something so satisfying in using my hands to build something out of nothing. Also, I highly recommend reading A Natural History of the Senses by Diane Ackerman, it quite literally changed my life and the way I navigate this vessel of a body in the world. She makes you aware of your senses in a way that is truly transformative. In the Scent Chapter, Ackerman explains that Cleopatra received Antony in a cedarwood ship with perfumed sails. Ancient Egyptian socialites would wear wax cones atop their heads, filled with unguent, the cones would slowly melt coating them in perfumed oils. How beautiful is that?
What is the role of self-care in your life? Do you use it to control stress, or just stay in touch with yourself?
Self care is integral to my life... I've lived in New York my whole life, it's chaotic, messy, difficult, fast...and that’s why I’ve always made my home an oasis. It's so important to me, I lived without a sink for months waiting for the perfect one (a 300lb slate sink my mother and I drove for hours to pick up). I think that I live my life around self care as much as possible. I’m a freelancer so I make my own schedule, which allows me a lot of time to work on my self. It’s certainly not for everyone, but I couldn’t imagine life any other way.
How do you stay focused and spend solo time in a busy city like New York?
Scent! I scent my home and my body according to my mood, or how I want to feel. Scent is the most powerful memory trigger, and creating good memories is extremely important to me. I light candles or incense, and I also have a diffuser that I like to sleep next to. I spend a lot of alone time in my studio (it’s in my apartment) while my partner is at work. Alone time is absolutely crucial to me. I’m a real only child.
I take baths often and I listen to a lot of music. For the past few years I’ve been making a playlist every month, all songs that I'm loving at the moment. I think of it as a music diary. I can go back and listen to songs from, say, September 2015 and it brings me right back to when my partner and I started dating! Oh, and recording my dreams! I’ve been able to lucid dream a few times and its the most magical experience…you can do anything, fly, breathe underwater, its so cool! I've also been getting cupping on my back, which has been extremely helpful.
Do you think sex can be a form of self care?
Yes, of course! My partner and I have been practicing intentional intimacy and it’s transformed us individually and as a couple. Here's how it works: Each person is given a time slot per week. We do about 15 minutes with a warm up and a cool down time, so it ends up being a little over 20 usually. During your time, your partner's only focus is to give YOU pleasure however you want. Of course, it is completely consensual so if you want something your partner is uncomfortable doing, then no problem and no pressure, you think of something else! You swap days, so you each have one session per week, and it is the pleasure giver's job to schedule the session. Intimacy in this context can mean anything!
If you're not feeling super sexual, you can spend your time cuddling or getting a massage. I thought scheduling intimacy was going to be super awkward and stiff, but it’s actually the opposite. It gives you time to prepare, I like to go around and light a bunch of candles, choose music to play, wear something I feel really good in. I also have a red light that I always turn on for this time. I never paid so much attention to setting the mood, but let me tell you, it's a game changer! And you can totally do this solo too…I think everyone should make time for sex, whatever that means to you!
Does art-making figure into a self-care program for you?
Art making is 100% self-care for me. I make my vessels because I want to, and for no other reason. As of now its not my “job”, and I don’t ever want it to feel like a job. I’m super lucky that my actual “job” is working with flowers…because that doesn’t really feel like work either. I’ve met the most amazing people through floral work, and they are some of my best friends!
As I said before, my studio is in my apartment. It’s a tiny, tiny room, but it is a complete sanctuary. I blast music and just go. I never know what I’m making until I’m making it. I design as I go, which is the most stimulating I think. Sometimes I envision a vessel and try to make it real. Sometimes I literally create puzzles for myself, making pieces of the puzzle and figuring out how and where to place those pieces. If I’m feeling stuck, I’ll often just play with the clay. Its an amazing medium because its super open to play. You can make something and smush it 100 times. You can shatter dried pieces and then reconstitute the clay by wetting it again…over and over and over. Also, what is better than having your hands in earth, it feels so ancient and natural. Just earth and fire.
Talk a bit about the concept of the vessel. What does it mean to you?
I came up with the name Wet Vessels with my brilliant friend Kate Messinger. Kate is a writer and we were going to do a project where she would write erotic poems and we would slip them into my vases, like a message in a bottle. I always thought of the vase as a very sexual object , and after nearly a decade of putting flowers in them, I wanted it to finally be about the vase. It’s a bit tongue in cheek, the fact that historically [the patriarchy] considered people with uteruses mere vessels to grow babies and unable to feel pleasure. (Hey, super relevant now, here in the States). A wet vessel is a vessel that feels pleasure, a vessel that enjoys the act and takes delight in it. It's also a dance between the vessel and whatever goes inside of it. A vase that likes being stuffed, so to say!