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John Gillies

b. 1960

A sailing vessel hoves into view, white sails billowing in the darkness. Images appear on the sails, projections of microscopic surfaces, rocks, patterns, pages of the Bible. Children laughing and electronic noises can be heard on the soundtrack. So begins John Gillies’s Armada (1994-1998), a video/sound installation. Gillies’s work since the 1980s has explored the dynamic relationships between sound, music and image, producing exquisitely realised and sumptuously ambiguous immersive experiences. 

Gilles has made numerous stand-alone video works, installations and live video mixes.  His work De Quincey Tapes (2001), for example, is a piece that incorporates live performance elements in the form of dancing bodies, multiple projections and layered faces. The feel of the work is improvisatory, with a loose organic flow to the narrative. Gillies’ Shiver (VJ Mix) (2005) documents a live, improvised music and video mixing performance for dancers choreographed by Tess de Quincey. With strobing wipes of dancers with fans and dressed in fake fur the video advances the artists interests in ambiguous but thematically unified collage narratives.

Other works by Gillies courts more traditional narrative montage territory. Divide (2006) is a two screen piece that unhurriedly describes the journey of a group of men travelling across a pastoral landscape. On one screen we see a man carrying a lamb across craggy ground. On the other screen, a group of men, perhaps a gang of convicts, are seen making their way through bush and forest, encountering rough terrain, a Chinese dancer in the night and the death of one of the party.

Fractured across two screens, Divide manages a unique narrative cohesion, expanding cinematic language as the audience encounters separate parts of the story on different screens. Road Movie (Part 1) (2008) is a more contained experience on one screen but has the same slow building narrative of Divide. In Road Movie (Part 1) a driver makes his way through a traffic jam, eventually arriving on the outskirts of a city in darkness. He drives the car into a hole, then begins to bury it. The loop begins again. 

Andrew Frost
Birth place
Beaudesert, QLD, Australia
Period of activity 
from 1980
Other works 

Selected solo exhibitions: John Gillies: Videowork,Institute of Modern Arts, Brisbane, 2006. John Gillies, Perth Institute of Contemporary Art, Perth, 2005. John Gillies: Video Works 1982-2001, Performance Space, 2004. John Gillies: Armada, Festival da Imagem em Movemento, Museu de Arte Moderno da Bahia. Salvador, Brazil, 1998.

Other group exhibitions 

Selected group exhibitions:  Workin’ Down Under, Wood Street Galleries, Pittsburgh, Face Value: Video portraiture from the Pacific, New Zealand Portrait Gallery Te Punkenga Whakaata, Wellington, 2007. 2006 Contemporary Commonwealth, National Gallery of Victoria & Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Melbourne, Breathing Space Australia, Tramway, Glasgow & Green Room, Manchester, UK, In Between Time, Arnolfini, Bristol, 2006.

Awards, collections 
Australian National Gallery Fukuyama Museum, Japan Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Melbourn Queensland Art Gallery Griffith University Art Collection

Selected publications: John Gillies: Video Work 1982-2001, catalogue, 2004. Across Great Divides, Realtime #60, April-May, 2004. Wizard of Vid, Sydney Morning Herald. April 30, 2004. Video magic at the Performance Space, Sydney, Art Monthly Australia, October, 2004. John Gillies: a retrospective, Un Magazine, #2., 2004