Art as Therapy: Lost and Found

City Hub

To be lost is a universal experience, and that does not necessarily mean to be lost in a physical sense.

Different artists and groups around Sydney have identified art as an amazing medium to address the feeling of being lost – using their form to prompt conversations, awareness and beneficial action. From multi media artists starting a dialogue about “feeling lost”, through to artists uniting to raise funds for an epilepsy action group, and a contemporary dance program catered specifically to adults with an intellectual disability.

Sydney based artistic duo Gillie and Marc recently launched a new video project series, which was prompted by a contemporary art project that began three years ago. In 2013 the husband and wife team began placing some intriguing sculptures in public spaces. You’ve more than likely spotted at least one of their starkly colourful dog sculptures around (you know, the ones with the human bodies).

“[We tied the dogs] to benches and to parking signs… We wanted them to actually bring a bit more colour and brightness and humour into the city, and as soon as we put them out there people started stealing them!” explained Marc.

Almost all of the 100 sculptures were cut from their chains and stolen within a month, and they were soon labelled ‘The Lost Dogs’.

Accepting the fate of their stolen art works, Gillie and Marc were surprised to soon begin to receive correspondence from people who boldly admitted to “adopting” their sculptures. “I think the overall response was positive,” added Gillie. “I think everyone loves dogs because they are so non-judgemental and loving.”

“It became almost like a symbol of people who wanted…companionship,” explained Marc. “And we realised then…that everyone does feel lost at some point in their lives…”

Their new video series, ‘The Lost Dogs Project, is an ongoing collection of one-minute clips with well-known people chatting with a Lost Dog sculpture. “We want people to talk about those times they feel low, and we enlisted celebrities [as] the first people to go forward and start talking about that moment in their lives,” explained Marc.

Statistically, one in four people in Australia in the course of their lives will suffer from clinical depression. “We also know that throughout everyone’s lives they’re going to feel lost, that’s a fact,” added Marc. “They don’t have to necessarily be diagnosed, but [they’ll find themselves in] a dark, not good place.”

Art can be a powerful tool for creating awareness. In the case of the Art for Epilepsy auction, artists have kindly donated their works to an initiative that raises funds and awareness for Epilepsy Action Australia (EAA).

The art auction launched on Valentine’s Day and will finish on Purple Day, an international day of epilepsy awareness. “Not only was Saint Valentine the patron saint of love [but] he was also, would you believe it, the patron saint of epilepsy,” explained CEO of the EAA, Carol Ireland.

The EAA strives for community understanding of this terribly common but misunderstood neurological disorder. Art for Epilepsy will be the first time they’ve officially utilised the arts.

Gabrielle Jones is one of more than 50 artists who have volunteered their work for the fundraiser. An abstract painter referencing gardens and flora in her work, Jones painted ‘Charm’s Power’ in response to the only instruction given to the varied range of artists involved: include the colour purple in some way. Not directly affected by epilepsy personally, Jones does “feel it is necessary to give back to society” and said that the EAA made a great argument for why they need support.

Ireland explained that up to two per-cent of the population suffer epilepsy. “Of all the people in Australia right now, around 800,000 people will be diagnosed at some point in their lives…of all those people, about 60 per-cent will get [reasonable] seizure control from medication…the other 40% won’t, and it’s pretty tough…” she said.

All of the proceeds from the auction will go into the EAA’s programs, with a strong focus on education for individuals who have been diagnosed and their families, and for third parties including GPs, nurses, carers and employers.

Jones understands the benefits of art and art practice to the mental wellbeing of individuals. She teaches painting to adults with clientele ranging from successful professionals in high-pressure positions to cancer survivors.

“What I consider art does…is it is a vehicle to give incredible stress relief…because it’s actually accessing the right side of the brain when we live in a left-brained world, which is time based…deadline based [and] which is all about productivity,” explained Jones.

Recognising the power of creative outlets, Studio ARTES are launching MERGE, a contemporary dance program to help individuals who have otherwise felt lost. An arts studio for adults who identify as having an intellectual disability, Studio ARTES run a variety of programs in dance, drama, music, film and visual arts.

MERGE is supported by the Deliniate Grant for Performance Development. It’s a two-year program involving collaborations with Riverside Theatres, Shopfront Theatre for Young People and independent dance artist Matthew Shillcock.

“The main goals we are working towards [with MERGE, for our dancers] is an up-skilling in contemporary dance, which includes looking after our bodies… increasing muscle tone and flexibility…” explained Rebecca Canty, Studio ARTES’ Performing Arts Manager. “[Through to] what it means to be a dancer with disability in a mainstream context and how that can be a little bit different…so working on confidence, social skills and verbal skills so our members are going to be able to have the same opportunities…”

Studio ARTES takes a holistic approach to carving a community for people with intellectual disabilities who have struggled to find a place for themselves or to pursue creative lifestyles.

Ahead of officially launching MERGE in September, Studio ARTES will be raising vital funds with the Make Em Laugh comedy gala this weekend. Partnered with of Comedy for a Cause, this adults’ only event will feature acclaimed touring comedians alongside original performances from Studio ARTES participants. (AM)

City Hub lost and found Gillie and Marc