top of page

My Sister's Room  
single channel video installation, gallery dimensions variable, stereo sound, 2000

'In one hand I held a video camera. In the other hand I held photographs of my sister.'

Absence is the subject of John Gillies’ My Sister’s Room, 2000. This intimate portrait reveals how memory is assembled and how loss becomes something that is lived with, something that assumes its own form. Gillies has been making rigorously interdisciplinary work for more than two decades in Australia. His work often possesses a hypnotic quality as it enters into states of alienation and loss, hinting at the paranormal and referring to the power and uselessness of images. In My Sister’s Room, a portrait is slowly articulated of the artist’s sister who passed away. Are photographs what we bring to mind as recollected images, or is it our experience embedded as still-frames in our memory? Is one a more authentic memory than the other? The emotive stain is no less present in both. Gillies is committing his own knowing of this sister as he draws a spatial portrait of recollection that burns the edge between the filmic and phenomenological worlds


Rhana Devenport, 'Face Value: Video Portraiture from the Pacific',

New Zealand Portrait Gallery Te Pukenga Whakapapa, catalogue, 2005, pp 6-7



John Gillies’ remarkable My Sister’s Room (2000) is built from humbler and very different transformations made by the artist holding a video camera in one hand and photographs of his late sister in the other. The photographs pixelate into shimmering yellows and golds and the occasional wavering of the artist’s hand eerily triggers apparent movements in the face. The work becomes a moving meditation on the act of looking at photographs.


Keith Gallash, 'Not Quite Still Lives', RealTime issue #67, June-July 2005, p 43



In My Sister’s Room John Gillies uses a single face to explore the dialectic between absence, performance and representation – grainy, super-enlarged photographic stills of his late sister’s face projected onto one wall of a blackened room, accompanied by a soundtrack made up of the many indistinct sounds a person makes as they move quietly about a room. On one level the face in My Sister’s Room activates the kind of physiognomic scrutiny invited by all films: a compulsion to search the face for signs of a unique character, a mirror of the soul. This viewing position is, however, undermined by a persistent flickering on the screen. The slight movements of the frame generated by the hand held camera technique reveal that this is a work of re-photography: an image of an image. In this moment of revelation our perception coincides with the filmmaker’s. Taking us beyond concepts of character and identity, My Sister’s Room allows us to feel something of the intense longing to reverse the powers of death, to re-activate the dead. In the same instant, it exposes the cruel nature of the camera’s pretense to satisfy this desire. Film cannot re-present what is absent. Its images are only ever a trace of what was. And to see this, as we are forced to do in My Sister’s Room, is to understand in the most profound and devastating way that the dead exist only as an image.


Therese Davis, 'John Gillies: A Cinema of Lost Images', Performance Space, 2004


I am reminded of René Payant's description of installations as 'sites of complexity', spaces that evoke the notion of total art work (Gesamtkunstwerk) and function as spectacle by embracing all our senses and suggest a marked kinetic form of specatorial participation.


John Gillies’ poignant My Sister's Room consisted of a series of enigmatic pixelated close-ups of the artist's sister's face projected onto a large screen. These delicate gestural stills quivered with intimacy and a sense of the uncanny. The installation acted as a subtle, moving memory-aid, evoking the presence of the absent sister. Looking at the work you are gently sutured to the image/sound spectacle as you quietly interrogate Gillies' sister's face as an expression of Dreyer's sublime metaphor of the face as a landscape: 'Nothing in the world can be compared to a human face. It is a land that one never tires of exploring, a landscape (whether rugged or peaceful) with a unique beauty'. The atmospheric soundtrack of someone (his sister?) moving around a room that accompanies this highly accomplished installation has a haunting presence.

John Conomos, 'Spectrascope', Review, Postwest No 17, 2000


New Zealand Portrait Gallery Te Pukenga Whakaata, Wellington 2007

Brisbane Museum, Brisbane 2006

John Gillies, PICA, Perth 2005

Ivan Dougherty Gallery, Sydney 2005

Spectrascope, Performance Space, 12th Biennale of Sydney, 2000


Keith Gallash, 'Not Quite Still Lives', RealTime issue #67, June-July 2005

Rhana Devenport, Face Value / Voicing the Silent Witness  in  'Face Value: Video Portraiture from the Pacific', catalogue, Ivan Dougherty Gallery Sydney 2005

Therese Davis, 'John Gillies: A Cinema of Lost Images', Performance Space, 2004

John Conomos, 'Spectrascope', Review, Postwest No 17, 2000
Atanas Djonov, 'My Sister's Room', unpublished essay, 2000

< previous   next >

bottom of page