Collaboration, Creativity, Community: Discussing the !GWAK Art Swap with Amber Bardell

As the !GWAK Art Swap enters its sixth week, we chat to !GWAK co-director and project manager, Amber Bardell, about its conception, artists' experiences and how to get involved.

'Fisk' - Print by Caylan Hallows for Week 2, 'Shape'

MN: What ideas are at the heart of the art swap?

AB: I think the !GWAK swap is really about connectivity and putting artists in touch with others through the exchange of work. Each week, a theme is announced and you can choose whether to participate, then you're given a random address to send to and you'll receive art from someone different. The aim is to make this exchange as vibrant and accessible as possible, whilst putting everyone in touch with two other artists via the swap. The idea originated from seeing Lucy Abbott involved in an art swap with Harriette Lloyd; after discussing it with them, I started the !GWAK swap, which they are now both a part of!

MN: The !GWAK Art Swap has fostered a physical approach, with each contributor sharing a piece of their own work and, in turn, receiving one, either via post or email. Why have you chosen this format? What role does it play in your goal of helping artists?

AB: I have really been pushing the postal form of our swap as it is so nice to have that surprise arrive in the mail and to obtain a tactile piece of artwork, though the email version has its merits too - its faster and free so has really worked well for those outside of the UK or those that would rather keep their artwork. I really like the intention of making something for someone and not knowing who they are, as well as the process of letting go of your artwork in general. It's all definitely with the aim of strengthening the purpose of !GWAK: collaboration, creativity, community.

Embroidery by Georgia Keeling, for Week 4, 'Texture'

MN: There isn’t a curation process in the sense that any !GWAK member can take part, but you do match the submitted pieces to a recipient. How do you go about this process? What factors play a part?

AB: I try to match people with artists they don't know and give them a range of different work too, often crossing mediums etc. I had two writers submit in the first week but matched them with fine artists/photographers, as I think discussing art across different media is also really interesting for opening our minds. Having the same people involved week on week is really exciting too, as I know they'll get more of an insight into the broad range of work in the swap from their connections each time.

Photograph by Nicolo Goattin, for Week 1 'Explore'

MN: The art swap came into being during the age of COVID19. To what extent did the socially-distanced world inform the conception of the swap?

AB: As we aren't able to host meet-ups or events like usual, I wanted to find new ways that would put artists in touch with one another and hopefully create some dialogues around their work. Collaboration is a big part of what we encourage at !GWAK, so we hope this may be a way artists can find potential collaborators too. I also really like that we can introduce some positive change into people's lives at this time; receiving some art in the mail is a nice surprise during the lockdown.

MN: How can artists take part?

AB: The swap is for members, so if you aren't one already, fill in our application form on the site's homepage. If you are a member already, send me a message to participate!

Collage by Lucy Abbott, for Week 3 'Flow'

Catch the final round-up of the !GWAK Art Swap, featuring the works and experiences of participating artists, on the blog in a few weeks time.