Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Animals in sculpture: interview with artists Gillie & Marc

Gillie and Marc with a sculpture of dogman, a dog/human hybrid (Photo courtesy Gillie and Marc)
Here at SAT we don't pretend to be experts on art, but we know what we like and the sculptures and artwork of Gillie and Marc are up there. We were introduced to their work at Sculptures by the Sea, and have been intrigued ever since. After reading their new book and learning about their passion for animals we had to chat. Happily, they were up for it!

Who are you and what do you do?

We are contemporary artists, husband and wife team. We have been collaborating to create art as one for the last 20 years applying the iconic imagery of the dog/human and rabbit/human hybrid to celebrate the powerful spiritual relationship that exists between man and animal.

Your sculptures and artwork are often theriocephalic (an animal’s head is placed on a human body). Why do you use this technique?

In Ancient Egyptian times theriocephaly was used in art with the intention of giving humans the quality of an animal. By giving our human sculptures the head of a dog we give it the qualities of a dog and make ourselves better humans.

The hybrid also signifies embracing diversity and celebrating our differences.

You’ve said that dogs are the humans we’d like to be. What is it about dogs that we love so much?

Like people, dogs are pack animals. They’re good at reading faces, moods, emotions. Dogs want to be part of our lives, and they’re responsive to our moods; that’s why they make excellent companions for children, the sick, the elderly. The company of dogs is good for our health and our souls. Perhaps this is why 42% of Australians are dog owners.

The emotional lives of dogs are simpler than ours. Dogs show love and loyalty, affection and trust. They adore us, protect us, and always want to be with us. Dogs seem like a version of ourselves, our better selves: joyous, spontaneous, living in the moment, dedicated to pleasure, but never an entirely selfish pleasure, because at heart they crave our love. And their love for us is unconditional.

We love our dogs because they bring out our humanity. We recognise in them the qualities we most admire in ourselves. Dogs are the people we want to be.

You are both professed animal lovers. Can you tell us about any companion animals you share your lives with right now?

We have a fourteen year-old Golden Retriever called ‘Moby’. He is a watchdog, a loving companion, and our best friend.   We also have a tabby cat called ‘Izzie’ who has been with us for 17 years and is a treasured member of our family. We would have more pets if we could but we also have 2 children so…

Have you ever taken them to the vet? Can you tell us a bit about the experience?

We have taken the pets to the vet for regular check ups and injections but so far they have both been healthy (touch wood). We know the day is going to come when we will loose them and that is so hard to even imagine that they will no longer be in our lives.  They have become as quirky as we are and are truly a part of this family in every way.

How would you describe your bond?

Our love for each other is the cornerstone of what we are and what we create. After meeting in Asia we realized we had both found our soul mate with the same passion for art, animals, travel and adventure . Seven days after that first meeting, we took the road to Pokhara, Nepal, at the foot of Everest, and got married.

We have an amazing friendship and respect for one another, we barely spend a day apart - our family life and art life all blends wonderfully into one.

You dedicated Gillie and Marc: 20 Years of Marriage and Art to all the rhinos whose lives have been taken from them. Can you tell us a bit more about the plight of rhinos and the work you have done to increase awareness?

Nearly 700 rhinos have been killed in South Africa in 2013 making it the bloodiest year yet for rhino poaching.  The black rhinos numbers are down to only 3,600 in the wild and these beautiful creatures could be two years away from extinction. Now critically endangered, rhinos desperately need the active involvement of everyone to save their lives.

We have created a HUGE bronze rhino stampede in the centre of Melbourne’s Federation Square. These life-size rhinos are a public artwork called “RUN FOR YOUR LIFE.”

The work features three magnificent rhino sculptures that invite the public to be part of their run for freedom and life. This remarkable installation brings the call of the wild to the city and to the people of Melbourne who already have a strong moral and environmental concern. The first rhino has our dogman and rabbitgirl hybrids riding it. The next two rhinos have saddles and the public are invited to ride them to save rhino LIVES. When people ride the rhinos the sounds of a rhino stampede plays, so people actually feel they are part of the run.

We were expecting a positive response but nothing like the response we have received so far. Hundreds of thousands of people want to climb, touch, cuddle and ride the rhinos.

With these sculptures we hope to raise public awareness of the plight of rhino species in the wild. Now critically endangered, rhinos desperately need the active involvement of everyone to save their lives. We hope everyone who sets foot in Fed Square can feel a connection to the three sculptures that spell out the rhino’s future.

How can artists, and art, help animals?

We believe that is it the duty of the artist to push boundaries and believe in the power of art to change opinions, attitudes and finally actions.

In 2005 we believed that art could save lives with their exhibition ‘Life Can’t Wait.’ We used our art to change the lives of 12 Australians who urgently needed an organ donation.

The exhibition saved lives. It toured around Australia raising awareness. When we did ‘Life Can’t Wait’ we saw what we could do for the welfare of others through art and we became attracted to becoming a voice for others again. We’d drawn all this attention and we wanted to do something good with it.


Now with our Rhino installation at Federation Square our goal is to affect people so they’re inspired to do as much as they can to help save these endangered species. In essence, here we have turned our sculpture into public activism.

Wow! We hope to get down to Melbourne and see it. Meantime if you need a portable fix of Gillie and Marc, we recommend the book - its definitely readable, even for the non-artistically informed, and the pictures are stunning.

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