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