Rewind: John Dunkley-Smith: Perspectives for conscious alterations in everyday life

Maximum Effect with Minimum Means
By Julia Powles

John Dunkley-Smith: Perspectives for Conscious Alterations in Everyday Life, installation view, ACCA, 1993. Courtesy ACCA Archive

‘Material resonates with material, image resonates with image, word resonates with word, and through ideas they all resonate with one another.’

‘What might be the correct reading of any text is of little concern. What is of real concern in whether any text can be turned to some use – used as an heuristic device, used as a field in which to play.’

John Dunkley-Smith’s exhibition Perspectives for conscious alterations in everyday life was held at ACCA in 1993. It comprised a projection of one hundred and sixty two 35mm slides of monochromatic dots that formed and reformed into feint minimalist grids and a large geometric floor drawing made from coloured gaffa tape. Unlike the familiar, self-referential, formalist abstraction that had been employed by the avant-garde and developed during high-modernism, the subject matter of Dunkley-Smith’s exhibition was derived from ‘everyday life’, more specifically the interlaced, structural criss-cross of the Luna Park Scenic Railway ride located near his home in St Kilda.

Overwhelmingly concerned with both structure and formlessness, Dunkley-Smith’s work at ACCA gave the viewer the opportunity to toy with the concept of chance. Within this work the possibility existed that amongst the certainty of architecture and the constancy of time one might notice something else, resulting in an alteration of perspective and a change in understanding. 

Well known for his seemingly banal yet poetic slide projections of city intersections, overpasses and interiors, Dunkley-Smith’s practice also included painting, drawing and film. Vehemently eschewing any personal content within the work, the artist presented art making as a form of play, albeit serious play. Arbitrariness coupled with a deep regard for the value of mistakes (those unconscious slips that allow an artist to deviate from their intended course) was employed by Dunkley-Smith as a working methodology: ‘Any procedure is adopted on the chance of it succeeding.’

In Perspectives for conscious alterations in everyday life the ACCA gallery became an immersive field, the floor drawing serving to actively locate the viewer within a system of seemingly never-ending intersections; a geometry of both logic and accident that had as its central premise the volition of the audience. It is this fact, that the artwork requires the viewer’s participation to activate it, which points to the significance of Dunkley-Smith’s exhibition as a precursor for those forms of relational, durational or experiential contemporary art practices that are familiar to us today.

In 2006 John Dunkley-Smith retired from art practice.


John Dunkley-Smith: Perspectives for conscious alterations in everyday life
23 October – 21 November 1993

Julia Powles is a curator and educator currently interning on ACCA’s online archive project as part of ACCA’s First 30 Years Program.

1. John Dunkley-Smith, ‘The Field of Play’, Perspectives for conscious alterations in everyday life, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne 1992. Original version published in ‘Textbook’, John Nixon & John Young (eds), Kerb Your Dog, no 12, Sydney, 1992.
2. John Dunkley-Smith, 1992.
3. John Dunkley-Smith, 1992.