Take a look at the wonderfully wide-ranging works - from paintings to poetry, sculptures to stories - exchanged for the !GWAK Art Swap, organised by Amber Bardell.
WEEK ONE: EXPLORE
LEFT: Harriette Lloyd; RIGHT: Nico Goattin
explore, v. To travel around an unknown area for the purposes of discovery
I always wanted to be an explorer.
While I was working and dreaming
Fiennes traversed the Antarctica on foot,
Fogle rowed across the Atlantic and women like
Tough ran over the Andes mountain range.
Just when I was ready to set off,
I unpacked my rucksack, kicked off my hiking boots and cancelled my flights. I sat outside in my yard and watched a stag beetle scratch its way across the concrete and I sighed.
I realised all the world’s adventures had all been used up and
I would never travel to uncharted territory.
I read O’Connor and Woolf over and over because the libraries were closed.
I picked up binoculars and watched two oystercatchers on the river because I couldn’t leave my house.
I grew nasturtium seeds in a cracked pot on my kitchen sill and ate the flowers in my salad because I had no food.
I picked up my guitar and strummed till my fingers bled because I was lonely.
When they said we could venture out and explore again I was suddenly afraid.
I sat in my yard and watched a ladybird struggle upwards on a trembling lavender stem. After a long time, the ladybird reached the top, opened its wings and lifted off. I watched it fly away over the injured fence.
I realised I did not need to travel to far-flung continents or watch the sun rise over distant horizons or prove myself on mountain peaks.
I had unknown worlds all around me; all the while they had been right here.
I simply needed to stay still to discover them.
I am an explorer.
Instructions for Driver
(Or: Exploring the Piteous Past and Worrying Future of Lester Cornflake)
The app says, “Delivering around 1:30 AM”, but it’s always late. Lester doesn’t know this; he’ll be expecting a prompt arrival. It’s his first time.
Lester’s flat is depressing, his flatmates don’t like him, and his mother, if she saw it, would describe his room as a shit hole. Two words, not shithole. The walls, specifically, are depressing. They evoke sick. His name is also detestable after you’ve said it a few times. Stealing himself from doom thoughts and slag metal, (a sub-genre of metal music, similar to thrash but distinguishable by its inclusion of synthesisers and steel pans) Lester steps outside for a short walk.
Six minutes, he’ll walk north for two and a half, then walk back the way he came, leaving an extra minute for contingencies.
The old phrase, ‘fresh air’, comes to his mind, but doesn’t seem right. More like ‘characterful air’ or ‘seasoned’, maybe. Air that’s been around the block, that’s been tastefully stained like an old teapot. Lester takes long, savouring breaths, absorbing the smelly city, the tire fires and fried chicken and sirens. He begins down his awful street, happy as a clam, dwarfed by everything that isn’t him. Fitting inside most potholes, at least waist-deep. Lester isn’t especially small, mind you, but this area is not very well looked after. And while there are bi-nightly shankings and bi-weekly funeral riots, Lester feels right at home in his horrible suburb. He’s not bothered by much. Except by his walk. And some other things, but mainly it’s his walk.
Ever since the Thursday of the 2015 Rodborough School Ski Trip, Lester has been entirely insecure about how he walks. Wednesday night, 19.02.15, the PE teacher, Mister Farrell, did an impression of young Lester in a game of charades. He was asleep at the time, but people told him about it at breakfast, 20.02.15. It was big news, the impression. The Charade. Lester’s classmates sat and watched as he crossed the room for a bowl of cereal, eyes wide and eager as if he were a firework display. They all compared Lester’s real-life walk with Mister Farrell’s portrayal. The general consensus: Farrell was dead on. They watched and gawked and smiled at Lester with creases in the corners of their eyes, creases which said: I pity you.
These smiles still haunt our young Lester, he sees them in the puddles he avoids. They cemented his understanding of Other People, and they serve as a symbol of Other People’s understanding of him. It was like watching apes discover fire, the way everybody lit up at the revelation that adults bully too. What’s especially tragic about this moment in Lester’s life is that, prior to that morning, he never knew he had a funny walk, never. Didn’t even suspect it. Funny how it only takes a minute or so to irreparably damage one’s psyche. This is where his worrying always starts.
Ten years on from The Charade and here’s Lester, incapable of stepping outside for a short walk and some recycled air without feeling insecure. Of course, there’s no need for it. Mister Farrell isn’t here. Nor Lester’s cruel classmates. Nobody’s watching him now.
Except of course somebody could be watching him now. That’s always a possibility. And it tends to be where Lester’s worrying goes when it’s finished with his walk. Somebody could be in a bin, and watching him through some eye holes that they’ve drilled. He rounds a corner, his breathing slows, he scans the road, there are several bins(!). Recently, Lester has been seeing a therapist, and he’s learned a thing or two about dealing with bin-fears. Confront irrational fears with rationality, says his therapist, Julie. Use logic to prove your worries wrong!
Lester uses logic. He considers that his proposed stalker would’ve had to do the drilling much earlier in the day, because he would certainly have noticed if somebody nearby drilled eye holes into a bin any time after, say, 9pm. He further considers that it is highly unlikely that someone would wait for hours in a bin just to catch him, especially given that a walk at this time is quite the anomaly for Lester, who is really more of a shut-in. Logically, he concludes, nobody is watching him from a bin. Despite this deduction, he continues to walk in the middle of the road for fear that, if somebody were in a bin, they might pop out and strangle him. This is a persistent fear of Lester’s. It is one of the reasons he switched to wireless headphones.
Now Playing: When the Roses Blossom by Billy Bragg. It’s comforting music, and it does help, but Lester can’t stop taking the headphones off to listen for rustling or other alarming noises, and so doesn’t get to enjoy the full song.
This next road has far fewer bins. Lester’s pace increases as he passes an ambulance driver having a cigarette. He doesn’t see any irony there. The driver does see Lester’s funny walk, and silently guesses: Cerebral Palsy. She’s wrong. It’s actually clubfoot. Or, it was. Lester’s feet were straightened when he was young, before he formed any meaningful memories. They look normal enough, but his walk has never fully corrected.
Staring at the road, the worry rushes away from the bins and over to its final destination.
Lester has a problem: He wants to be a writer.
He wants so desperately to write absolutely everything down, and this is always what he worries about. He can’t write a word. He can’t leave anything out. As he walks, he notes the mud on the floor, the cracks in the tar, the colour of each plastic bag, the brands of soft drink cans, the number plates on cars and the stickers on streetlights. He feels a cannonball in his stomach, his knees begin to buckle under the weight of all these details, as though he is subject to their mercy. He sees the stickers, the mud, the KFC debris, but nobody else does, and the responsibility of holding these images in his head is far too much. He worries that, if he doesn’t remember these details, he might not really exist. For five weeks Lester has stuck to his routine, his diet, and his bedtime. He’s reserved two hours every day to write his masterpiece, and in five weeks he’s written nothing. He can’t figure out that he’s too worried to write. He thinks the worrying helps, but it doesn’t. Lester has spent the last few nights sitting in his head, lamenting the future and hating the human condition. He’s convinced himself that his misery will be fodder for his art, yet tonight, while particularly unmiserable, he finally wrote something. Although, to be fair, he was prompted by the app:
Instructions For Driver:
No salad, Chilli sauce.
Can I please have some extra meat because of the no salad? This is my first time ordering online, and usually I ask in the shop and they say yes. It’s fine if not, I’m not trying to beg, I just mean in exchange for the missing salad, a little bit of extra donner would be much appreciated as I am quite poor and very hungry aha. You could definitely expect a nice review if I did get extra meat, five stars, no doubt, but again, I’m not trying to barter for it. To be clear, I’m only asking for an amount of meat which is equal in value, not in volume, to the amount of salad omitted from my order. I swear I’m not trying to blackmail you with my ‘five stars’ comment. All I’m doing is sharing my vision of the future. Describing two possible timelines and letting you exercise your rights as autonomous humans to choose how you act. Do whatever you want, I really don’t mind. Just follow your hearts.
Also, I’m on the second floor, so please call the contact number when you arrive and I’ll buzz the door, or I can come down and wait.
It’s not Kafka but at least it’s honest.
The app says, “Delivering around 1:30 AM”, but it’s always late. He walks in wide circles outside the stairwell, like a big bee. Lester’s problem isn’t easily solved. He won’t write another word until he either escapes his present misery or orders another kebab.
His despair is twofold.
First, there’s the matter of his future. Why write? For Lester, it’s about catching the present, grabbing it, and holding it down. He wants to force it to stay with him, he can’t bear the thought of leaving any moments behind, if he writes each moment, he preserves them, creates fossils. Why create fossils now? To be frank, Lester’s future will not be great. He has wisely realised that, at 25, cognitively speaking, it’s all downhill from here. Why write? Because one day, Lester is going to be an Old Man, and he will have dementia, and he will break his daughter’s heart by asking who she is. Because one day, he will have no memory of this walk, of this stairwell, of this gorgeous black empty sky, because being twenty-five will slip from his hippocampus along with, eventually, everything else. He’ll be empty. A husk. A silly thing. A new child in an old body, he’ll be innocent and tragic and confused. If he writes nothing this year, he will have no proof of ever being twenty-five, and this notion has terrified him into a desperate paralysis, he wants nothing more than to write, but his fingers feel the Parkinson’s he doesn’t have yet.
In the second leg of Lester’s Misery, there’s the matter of everyone else’s future. If you’ve tried to write, you can imagine the challenges presented to people like Lester, people who get hung up on everything. Lester is hung up on his past, his walk, and his parents’ inevitable deaths. Growing up, he was sold a lie about the future: you never know what’s gonna happen. You can predict very little about the future, there’s very little that is inevitable. In fact, there’s basically nothing inevitable except everybody dying. For people like Lester who have internalised this simple truth, everybody they meet is already dead, and these worried people like Lester are getting a head start in mourning them. For the past week, Lester has moped and sulked against his sick walls, crying over the impending deaths of his currently healthy sixty-something parents. Why write? Because death is coming, but it’s not here yet! Because writing is how Lester will eventually cope with the loss of his mother because people are just words in the end, for Lester, but if he never writes, they never will be. And so of course he has to, he has to save everybody, he has to write enough of his mother to see her there, on the page, still driving him to school, always. He runs through all this in his head while suspiciously eyeing the neighbour’s recycling.
He checks his phone every twenty seconds. He thinks: Maybe the driver is lost. His shoulders slope, he looks like he’s holding a bass guitar, but of course he isn’t, so he looks quite stupid. If only something could go his way! Maybe if this goes smoothly, he’ll finally be able to write. He’s thinking about the extra meat and if he’ll get it. He longs for it. It occurs to him that he doesn’t have a control kebab to compare his with, and that he probably will never be sure whether he got extra meat or whether that’s the standard delivery portion size.
Lester has curled into a ball, it’s colder when you’re static.
The Lester Ball is illuminated by the 15 Watt headlight of a dinky Vespa. An alien dismounts the vehicle, holds out an offering from its people. Lester opens up like a woodlouse and takes the humble gift, bowing ceremoniously and slinking up the stairwell, the echo of his footsteps mingles with his hushed “thank-you”s and “have-a-good-night-mate”s. In his Bombsite, Lester carefully unwraps the prize, as though revealing a mummified corpse in a cartoon. His face is bathed in a golden glow as he arrives at the yellow polystyrene. You could hear a pin drop. Gently, he pops the flimsy clasp and opens the lid on his precious and –
- Of course.
There’s salad. The whole thing is drenched in garlic mayo, lettuce, chillies, cabbage, cucumber, and onions. There are four people in the UK who are registered as allergic to onions, two who are allergic to garlic, and only one person who is allergic to both. A pale, hungry, meek smile briefly crosses Lester’s face. He opens the chips – they’re safe. He leaves the kebab in the kitchen and calls out for anyone who wants it. No responses.
Chips finished, still hungry, reeling from the defeat, breathless, Lester sits and laughs. He holds his stomach. He doubles over. He laughs until he’s wheezing, then he wheezes for a while. Eventually, he sits up, wipes his tears, blows his nose, opens his laptop, and bravely greets the empty document with a few opening keystrokes.
He’s got something about a lost delivery driver, there’s mud and plastic bags on the floor, page six needs work, but page seven will be brilliant.
It’s not Kafka but at least it’s honest.
WEEK TWO: SHAPE
TOP LEFT TO RIGHT: Amber Bardell, Freya De Villiers, Djenaba Davis Eyo
CENTRE LEFT TO RIGHT: Caylan Hallows, Amy Leigh-Bird, Harriette Lloyd
BOTTOM LEFT TO RIGHT: Georgia Keeling, Prithy Paramsothy, Nico Goattin
WEEK THREE: FLOW
LEFT: Lucy Abbott; CENTRE: Georgia Keeling; RIGHT: Caylan Hallows
WEEK FOUR: TEXTURE
LEFT: Georgia Keeling; CENTRE: Lucy Abbott; RIGHT: Djenaba Davis-Eyo
WEEK FIVE: CONTRAST
LEFT TO RIGHT: Tilda Shaw-Nichols, Elaoise Benson, Harriette Lloyd, Lucy Abbott
WEEK SIX: LAYERS
LEFT: Elaoise Benson; CENTRE: Caylan Hallows; RIGHT: Tilda Shaw-Nichols
A Prose Poem: Whether You Like it or Not
Is this the correct centre? So much the better and hardly if it is true that nothing NO THING will ever be the same as it was by virtue of all that there is which is time and movement. This planet is moving in a spiral it will never be in the same place and behind it runs a snake of light that might, if you could catch it, be time travel. Does this plan on tasting good?
If Lincoln can occupy enough of his body with monotony that moves – see here as he cleans his teeth – what might be called ‘thought’ is reduced to language chaos. Words flash and run off. Someone somewhere is screaming. At first he perceives a baby’s nasal WAAAs but the pain is too much for the noise to be so young. Lincoln opens a window and hears the throaty uncontrollable seems-to-be-never-ending howls of an adult human being who could’ve been but hopefully isn’t his mother. Dreadfully, he hears something like “IT MADE ME KILL HIM” and the rest is garbled. He can’t hear anything but his own head when he resumes the brushing.
Hunched, hunching, must do no good for shoulders. Can’t look up for fear of. Cannot spit or clean at all without—
He says out loud: “oh man”
—what Egan called Shame Memories I hate I hate the past is still happening escape is not possible I hope one day when death does come it lets me go be generous with me I hope I wish that I might live a life of actions that will make death quiver to take me though I doubt it since already I’ve shat enough beds and kissed enough wrong and hurt and stole my parents booze and other people’s parents booze and people’s pints in public and publicly humiliated myself as many times on stage as on the soft mud or hard bitumen.
It is certainly a curse to hate to brush one’s teeth. Some people can just manage it. Lincoln’s skull vibrates and his shoulders become tense when he considers taking the brittle sting-bristles to his everyellow pegs. It’s always a shame to be motivated by fear. Yet better than nothing, better Lincoln suffer to clean his teeth for fear of rotting and chronic pain in later life. Better he sweat it out than fuck himself later down the line. It is his canines which refuse to come back from their tea-stained complexion. His canines, incisors, and the rest.
What we call the stream or train is hard to pin down and unstoppable. What has alarmed Lincoln as of late is this: he has noticed that he cannot slow his thoughts down at all. He has no rest whatever. He tries to focus on the tense shoulder and hot skull feelings of teeth cleaning and, for the remaining quarter of his still-vaguely-merlot-smelling mouth, he thinks:
How far apart do branches have to get before the sun stops fairy lighting through not brown cross-hatching and opens onto deep shifting purple lacerations on our permeable screens if the world is to be cast it will be cast open and chasm ridden and sodden with them and cut short and demolished if there is a promise left in this box of information processing systems if there is a chance that we might possibly get away from our hungry frail internalised dystopian bald futures if thick waterproof wicker is worth so little if all of this is leaving as fast as we found it I will die more often than I can bear as time’s velocity ramps and only ever know staticky retroactive vision spasms of myself.
Where is that tactile world we grew up in?
What new spongey fingers. Goodbye autonomy of digital images goodbye paper cuts goodbye to the handful of paedophiles to have perceived in person my little innocent presence throughout the early twothousands being the only people to have gazed greedily secretly sickly at the sickly off turquoise smooth skin of my stomach and chest in times of public partial nudity at beaches and at parks I cry goodbye to never knowing how many memories of my little image are stored in rotten minds but knowing that at least it isn’t many and those memories are sure to die my baby will grow in immortal images if not mine then its mother’s or my baby’s own and I alone have already run out of hardware to hold my camera roll so by forty be certain the potential collages or compositions of my ten-year-old would crumble any cubist this larva knows more about their tablet than I will the silent horde will be harder to perceive and recede with easy access to interactive images of beaches and parks black market VR games Deepfakes Streetview profile pictures YOUTUBE ALREADY TRAFFICS CHILDREN so comprehensive a system of access to others such celebrated voyeurism such suggestions of silent complacency so blurred so denatured so Photoshopped the world looks now.
WEEK SEVEN: COLOUR
LEFT: Amber Bardell; RIGHT: Lucy Abbott
How strange is it to me,
to define my love by colour,
by a rainbow.
Which is so fleeting,
a state of forever changing weather.
That one could so easily miss,
and ask themselves,
does it even exist?
Or if by chance they see,
it perplexes them,
like the mystique of a butterfly’s wing,
hazy as it flutters,
Between rain and sunshine.
But then perhaps,
it is not strange.
Just as I know now,
that the way I love is normal,
and yet remains unheard,
erased and misunderstood.
For I am blue, and pink,
I live in a chorus or colour,
humming with pride,
yet still withstanding the rain.
Freya De Villiers