'Draw + release' is our latest !GWAK group exhibition curated by our co-director Amber Bardell. With the private view coming up on Tuesday evening (RSVP required, more info at the bottom) we wanted to give you a bit of insight from Amber and some of the artists exhibiting:
'Draw + release' is an exhibition with the theme of creative practices for wellbeing, looking at the products and processes of art with therapeutic qualities or contexts. This theme was somewhat born from my film 'Art as Catharsis', I probably mention it way too much but it really has been a pathway to many things since I made it.
Art as Catharsis is a 30-minute documentary that explores creative practices for therapy via my own experiences and a range of people that I have conversations with. I didn't really expect the film to open up so many more opportunities and ideas but it was something I felt I definitely had to make at the time and that energy has continued throughout the production process (over a year) and past it to this point where I am still exploring the related subject matter. It's amazing to be able to exhibit the film as part of the exhibition as well, as this is really the perfect scenario for it to viewed in. As the film is really quite long for most short film categories but too short to be a feature, it isn't likely to get into many film festivals. Realistically those settings aren't often appreciative of this kind of work and are very caught up with prestige so I think that artists and visitors to the gallery should really connect with it more than festival-goers and this makes me happy.
More on the exhibition (which features fine art, soundscapes and an installation as well as the film): I think that we all experience unique relationships with our mental health and can find importance in being mindful through creativity. Something that really drives me in working around this subject matter is the notion that we can all find this useful. I believe that even if you don't see yourself to be creative or an artist if you can open up to the experience, you can benefit in some way from a creative process. The interactive parts of the exhibition really aim to remind people of how the physicality of many creative practices can give a calming focus and many of the artists also refer to this in their descriptions.
When sourcing work, I really encouraged including tactile and 3D artworks and am glad to include some ceramic pieces. I think that clay is a really universal material that lots of people can enjoy, the sensation of it is very natural and can often remind us of childhood experiences like making mud pies, playing with playdough or baking with dough. Clay also literally comes from the earth and can bring us back to something quite primitive which we are easily distracted from in this day and age. I also love it when you can see how artwork has been made, this really makes me connect to work and gives me an urge to create. Shivani's paintings including small fragments of things like sequins which are common and familiar things but embedded within perhaps an unusual texture or surface to form a new exploration. She describes her work as an 'excavation site' which I think really draws me in, imagining discovering things and also relating to the nature of the mind.
For me, there is always a healing element to making art. It isn't always the intention but along the way, things come up that need tending to. I think to be able to make something beautiful and to make your soul dance when you are creating, the connection between your heart and your hands must be seamless. When you communicate the heart's song, you can really heal yourself in the process and also others through what comes out in the end. When we align feeling, thought and action, we can all bring magic into the world, no matter what the endeavour. Sometimes it's important to feel insecure and vulnerable, because whilst we are in these spaces, we can discover more than from a place of comfort or knowing. When I feel this way, I am more open to bringing new materials into my artwork. I also recently experimented with image making about an experience I wouldn't normally make art about. This exhibition is really exciting because it makes central a part of the creative process which is often overlooked even though it's the very thing that ties all artists together. Also, I didn't even have to make new works for the show. They were in my studio waiting for this brilliant opportunity!
Draw + release is my first opportunity to curate an exhibition and something I've really loved is the deeper connections I get to have with some of the submitting artists. Due to the sensitive nature of the theme and the gallery setting, the artists will often reveal only some of the story in the descriptions yet I am sometimes gifted with more of an insight. Shivani, Elaoise and some others have discussed their works with me in more detail when I've been to collect or view the work which makes me feel really honored and like I'm being gifted something. Despite all of the work it has taken, the experience so far has been amazing.
At the time of the exhibitions proposal, I was thrilled to receive this opportunity. As a first-year degree student it is of course very exhilarating to show my work in a gallery space; and particularly exciting to be seen alongside many other strong practitioners. It has been a joy to be a part of !GWAK over the last 3 years and I love how it allows for creatively like-minded individuals to come together to create something larger than themselves. These events are a prime example of !GWAK’s collaborative success; I can’t wait to see how the variety of artworks will interact and respond to one another. Yet, I think the true worth of this exhibition for me has been the deeper, personal exploration of mental health and art. I have never considered myself as an artist whose work concerns the idea of mental health. It has always been important to me to not impose my artistic opinion onto topics that I did not represent or resonate with. But it is perhaps bittersweet that at the time of this exhibition multiple of those closest to me were experiencing difficulties with their mental wellbeing. In this way, the process of making the work for Draw + Release has allowed me to experience my own form of emotional catharsis that Amber’s Documentary so aptly described. I have begun to unpick my fears and emotions surrounding my family's wellbeing. It has shown me that these points of struggles only allow us to grow. It is not a weakness to ask for help, for we can form stronger bonds when we are vulnerable with one another. I hope for those visiting the exhibition that my work will bring them a sense of hope, and perhaps allow for a form of emotional catharsis for those who need it.
To combine the physical and mental experience of the work I really aim to encourage visitors to experience the exhibition to its fullest by touching specific artworks, watching a film, doing some art of their own in the installation space and hearing performances of poetry and soundscapes at the private view. I'm excited to bring together lots of creatives with a unifying theme for this event with a whole range of practices involved as well.
Please do come along to the exhibition whilst it is up, the private view is from 5-7.45pm on 17th March at London Gallery West Project Space, University of Westminster, Harrow. You must rsvp firstname.lastname@example.org if you are not a member of the university to attend throughout the duration of the show. The exhibition will be open from 18th to 26th March from 10-5pm after the private view.