Installation view of ROBERT ANDREW’s Disruptive (Ill) Logic (2017) at Metro Arts, Brisbane, 2017. Courtesy the artist and Metro Arts.

Disruptive (Ill) Logic

Robert Andrew

Metro Arts

For Robert Andrew’s “Disruptive (Ill) Logic” at Metro Arts gallery in Brisbane, visitors hear a variety of noises before stepping into the show: a soft whirring sound originates from somewhere behind a white wall, with hanging burnt branches dragged up and down to slowly leaving their marks. The branches are attached to strings that are, as we soon see, connected to an automated instrument in the center of the exhibition space. The machine drives an elaborate network of moving cords running to ceiling, windows and walls, all tied to organic objects such as wood, shell and rock. The show is a single-artwork presentation of the artist’s personal and political frustration with what has been lost from Indigenous knowledge.

Andrew has constructed a mechanically driven Cartesian coordinate system that accepts texts from the Yawuru language as stimulus. A small computer connects to a flat, white, square panel on the floor—an XY axis of coordinates—from which numerous strings then extend and retract. These strings carve out paths of motion across the floor to the gallery walls, ceiling and windows—ultimately manipulating the movement of items from nature to produce the contraption’s visual and audible output.

From the ends of the machine’s network of strings, burnt cinders from the wood and ocher will leave increasingly prominent blacks and reds on the gallery’s white walls. On the windows, opaque, white panels will, with the intervention of the machine’s timed water jets, gradually dissolve the white pigments and let an underlayer of red ocher bleed through, before that too is washed away to finally allow sunlight into the gallery. The setup is similar to Ground Up (2017), a mechanical installation presented by Andrew earlier this year in “Our Mutable Histories” at the Museum of Brisbane.

ROBERT ANDREW, detail of Disruptive (Ill) Logic, 2017, aluminum, polycarbonate, ply, string, 120 × 120 × 30 cm. Courtesy the artist and Metro Arts, Brisbane.

ROBERT ANDREW, detail of Disruptive (Ill) Logic, 2017, ocher, iron oxide, chalk, acrylic, aluminum, string, water, 280 × 140 × 10 cm. Courtesy the artist and Metro Arts, Brisbane.

ROBERT ANDREW, detail of Disruptive (Ill) Logic, 2017, ocher, iron oxide, tree branches, string. Courtesy the artist and Metro Arts, Brisbane.

Installation view of ROBERT ANDREW’s Disruptive (Ill) Logic (2017) at Metro Arts, Brisbane, 2017. Courtesy the artist and Metro Arts.

This artwork’s data output is, as referenced in the title, disrupted by organic, site-specific materials. Andrew describes his chosen materials, including red ochers, stones, pearl shells and charred wood, as “having a voice” because they are sourced from personally meaningful locations, such as his aunt’s backyard, locations around his studio, and his maternal great-grandmother’s lands near Rubibi (Broome). By facilitating the machine’s output with these items, Andrew is literally making an earthy intervention in the machine’s translations.

As is evident in his technical production and interest in Indigenous heritage, both of the artist’s parents had key roles in shaping his practice. His father fostered skills in manipulating and constructing machinery. Andrew grew up spending hours at a time in his father’s shed, taking apart telecommunication devices and other electronics in order to learn the process of “thinking something up and then creating it,” as the artist puts it. His mother’s Yawuru lineage—and the complex relationship she had with her Indigenous identity—prompts reflection on what has been lost in the process of colonization.

“Disruptive (Ill) Logic” expresses dissatisfaction with the hierarchical and unreliable methods historically used by Anglo-European colonizers to record the artist’s Indigenous ancestors’ wisdom and limit their collective identity. The erasure of Indigenous culture via loss of language is a tragic symptom of Enlightenment-era attitudes toward non-Anglo-European cultures and the colonialist policies that were applied toward Australia’s First Nations Peoples. English is an outsider’s tongue imposed on the local populace, one that simplifies the expressions of Indigenous languages and subordinates them to a European norm. Yawuru, an ancient oral language, is but one example of a knowledge-sharing system that contains radically different concepts of time and space—heard in words such as buru or yarryirr, which colonizer anthropologists have translated as “country” and “we,” failing to capture these words’ essence in written English equivalents.

Additive and reductive elements will change the appearance of Andrew’s installation over the course of a few weeks. By the end of the exhibition, when almost all shades have been rinsed off of the windows, the whole artwork will be, literally, shown in a new light. Like the drastic difference between the wet and dry seasons in northwest Australia, this variable in the scientific process is representative of yet another failure to factor in an important lingual change to Indigenous lexicons.  

ROBERT ANDREW, detail of Disruptive (Ill) Logic, 2017, pearl shell, rocks, etched blue stone, ocher, iron oxide, tree branches, string, 240 × 240 × 280 cm. Courtesy the artist and Metro Arts, Brisbane.

Robert Andrew’s “Disruptive (Ill) Logic” is showing at Metro Arts, Brisbane, until December 2, 2017.

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