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split screen single channel,  stereo sound, 25 mins, 2016

2 channel video installation, 4 channel sound, 2006

single channel video, stereo sound,  25 mins, 2004 - 2006


'Four white men, a horse, a Chinese opera singer and 2,000 sheep in a landscape with texts from the old testament.'

As white settlers drive their flocks of sheep across Australia, biblical quotations heralding the Promised Land provide the ironic justification for the appropriation of land. Vexed questions of nationhood, identity and land ownership circulate and disturb this profoundly lyrical work. Figuring Landscapes, Tate Modern, 2009  

....the story of the call of Abraham is turned back on itself to expose the impossibility and supreme arrogance of this storyʼs ideology of land possession. Just as the tribes of Abraham came to see when they faced famine in the so called promised land, Divideʼs final devastating image shows how European land-possessing doctrines and practices have led to an unmitigated destruction of the land in Australia. Sheep watch on as we come face-to-face with this failure.   Therese Davis, ‘Beyond Possession: John Gillies’ Divide’, 2008  


John Gillies’ Divide  quickly orients the viewer in to a sensory rendering of the Australian bush: the dry airborne scuffle and scaled peeling tones of eucalyptus branches and hard grasses, and these images and sounds in ghostly dialogue with a diverse set of almost-recognisable landscape narratives conjured from key works of Australian film and literature. In time, the work’s specific enactment of the story of the call of Abraham and his chosen “ flock” to the promised land becomes more clear.


Divide steps in to allegorical time in this way – in to a singular reduced formal rendition of the colonizers’ actions and intentions – to construct an alternative means of re-experiencing and re-exploring historicized trauma and discomfort with renewed sensory awareness.

Rachel O'Reilly, 'Videoground'

In Divide, Gillies has expressed a desire to move away from the well-worn Realist modes common to Australian cinema. The logical, the rational and predictable landscape become for him an ‘imaging of Australian landscape and history as magical, extraordinary and deeply melancholic’.

‘The figure in the distance’ is for me a questioning of ‘the figure in the landscape’. It is a re-viewing of my continuing engagement with the landscape. In Gibson’s ‘South of the West’ the need for a ‘redefined idea of Australia’, is called for. The process of coming to a re-defined idea of Australia then, suggests a need to start looking and listening in a greater variety of ways: a focus on the landscape as a place where different histories and cultures are woven together as stories.    David Mackenzie, 'A Figure in the Distance: Re-viewing the Australian Landscape'

performers: Denis Beaubois, Ari Ehrlich, Feng Shan Xu 许凤山 (Kunqu), Matt Millay, Dalisa Pigram (voice over), Lee Wilson

sound, image and direction: John Gillies

written by John Gillies

with texts adapted from 'Genesis' and 'Numbers', King James Bible
animal wranglers: Claudia Blakebrough-Hall, Steve Hartup, Jean Marden
location manager, construction, practical effects: Willy Hall



music: Qin Tiao 琴挑文君 by Gao Lian 高濂 [16th century]

vocal: Feng Shan Xu 许凤山

all other music and sound: John Gillies

co-producer: Penny McDonald
production company: Chili Films


produced with the assistance of the Australian Film Commission

first installed: Tramway, Glasgow ( 2 screen version)

Divide 2006: John Gillies by Rachel O'Reilly  2008
John Gillies: Divide by Fiona Trigg  2006
Beyond Possession: John Gillies' Divide by Therese Davis  2006
Of Beastly Beatitudes by Penny Webb  2006
John Gillies: Old land, new testament by Ruth Holdsworth   2006
John Gillies: A Geography of Longing and Belonging by Marie-Anne Mancio  2006
A Figure in the Distance: Re-viewing the Australian Landscape by David Mackenzie 2005
Across Great Divides by Keith Gallasch  2004
John Gillies Makes Video by Ruark Lewis  2004

Exhibitions & Screenings
John Gillies, Articulate, Sydney 2017 (split-screen version)
Melbourne Cinémathèque, Melbourne 2010
Tate Modern, London 2009
Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane 2009
ACC Galerie, Weimar 2009
Ivan Dougherty Gallery, Sydney 2009
James Cook University, Townsville 2009
FACT, Liverpool 2009
Vivid, Birmingham 2009
Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff 2009
Dundee Contemporary Arts, Dundee 2009
Mermaid Arts Centre, Wicklow 2009
Brighton Film Festival, Brighton 2009
Hull International Short Film Festival 2009
Shroud Vallery Artspace, Shroud 2009
Showroom, Sheffield 2009
ArtsWay, New Forrest 2008
Brut, Kunstlerhaus Wien, Vienna 2008
Film Study Centre, University of Chicago 2008
Bangkok Experimental Film Festival, Bangkok 2008
Wood Street Galleries, Pittsburgh 2007 (2 screen version)
John Gillies: Video Work, Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane 2006 (2 screen version)
Greenroom, Manchester 2006 (3 screen version)
Arnolfini, Bristol 2006 (2 screen version)
Tramway, Glasgow 2006 (2 screen version)
Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Melbourne 2006 (single screen version)
John Gillies, PICA, Perth 2005
Videobrasil Festival of Electronic Art, SESC Paulista, São Paulo 2005

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