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Australian art

Contemporary art

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John Gillies


1960 -

Sydney Front


1986 - 1993


John Gilles' 'Techno/Dumb/Show' is a pioneering example of 1990s video art in Australia. It was created over three months with the avant-garde theatre group The Sydney Front. Gillies encouraged the performers to self-direct their actions in front of the camera. This reversal of performer/viewer relationship references a critique of the camera and its perceived use for surveillance and control. In other ways this work draws on the tropes of cinema and theatre to question the nature of melodrama via non-narrative means.

Visually textured and multi-layered by the condensed use of montage, this work focuses on the improvisatory actions of its performers to explore the full spectrum of human emotion and bodily expression. Theatrical even histrionic gestures of the face, body and hands convey dismay, horror and an array of conflicting emotions. As Marie Craven wrote in 1996 "It's an aggressive piece that takes the repetition of gestures and details to ecstatic heights. The human actions captured in the piece - a man riding a bicycle, another conducting an orchestra, to name a couple - become amazing conductors of energy. The simple actions are performed with great gusto, an almost demented physicality. Gillies edits the piece in virtuosic style. It's a work-out, this video." (Marie Craven 'Mesh' issue #10, 1996)


Place where the work was made

Sydney New South Wales Australia



Materials used

single channel digital video, colour, black and white, sound




duration: 00:20:49 min, aspect ratio: 16:9

Signature & date

Not signed. Not dated.


Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

John Gillies

Works in the collection


Artist information

Sydney Front

Works in the collection



Where the work was made

Referenced in 11 publications


Margaret Brown, Videocamera and electronic imaging, 'Pushing video's horizons', pg. 26-29, Mona Vale, Sep 1991, 27, 28 (colour illus., video still). review of Australian Perspecta 1991

John Conomos, Strangers in paradise: contemporary Australian art to Korea, 'A video that questions the primacy of narrative', pg. 34, Sydney, 1992, 34.

Blair French and Fiona Winning, John Gillies: video work 1982-2001, 'Introduction', pg. 1-2, Sydney, 2004, 1, 3, 6 (colour illus., video still), 7, 10, 13 (colour illus., video still).

Adam Geczy, Art Monthly Australia, 'Video magic at the Performance Space', pg. 3-6, Canberra, Oct 2004. review of John Gillies video work: 1982-2001

Charles Green, Peripheral vision: Contemporary Australian art 1970-94, Drummoyne, 1995.

Pam Hansford, Australian Perspecta 1991, 'John Gillies and the Sydney Front', pg. 42, Sydney, 1991, 42.

Beth Jackson, RealTime, 'The performer and the video screen', pg. 34, Sydney, Jun 1997-Jul 1997, 34.

Ruark Lewis, Lino, 'John Gillies makes video', pg. 110-112, Sydney, 2006, 110 (colour illus., video still), 111 (colour illus., video still), 112 (colour illus., video still).

Vicki Riley, Cantrills filmnotes, 'Elevations of trauma: Techno/Dumb/Show: John Gillies and the Sydney Front', pg. 33-37, Melbourne, Oct 1991, 33 (illus., video still).

Nicholas Zurbrugg, Electronic arts in Australia: Continuum: the Australian journal of media &​ culture, 'John Gillies', pg. 201-215, Perth, 1994, 201, 202 (illus., video still), 203, 204 (illus., video still), 205, 206, 207, 208, 210, 213, 215 (illus., video still). interview with artist

Nicholas Zurbrugg, John Gillies: Armada video installation, 'John Gillies and the craft of video', pg. 3-7, Morningside, 1994, 4, 5, 6, 7.