'Held Within a Word' Perth Institute of Contemporary Art

Presented in associated in Perth Festival

Held within a word by Meanjin (Brisbane)-based artist Robert Andrew combines kinetic installations with programmable technologies and natural materials such as wood, stone, ochres and soil. A descendant of the Yawuru people whose Country is of the Broome region of the Kimberley, Western Australia, Andrew’s installations are expressions of experiences deeply rooted in his own family’s history and his ongoing recovery of knowledge about his family and identity.

Aboriginal languages occupy a central place in Andrew’s work and for his new installation at PICA he treats the gallery walls as a writing surface. Over several weeks, suspended objects move and interact to create an ever-evolving, ever-building ‘landscape’. The movements of strings, rocks and charcoal follow a pattern directed by words in Noongar that are slowly outlined on a mechanical plotter. The resulting gestural ‘topography’ bears no trace of the text that drives its formation yet is inherently embedded in ancient knowledge systems.

Robert Andrew challenges the use of the English language, and the act of writing itself, as a colonial tool, relinquishing control to produce artworks that embrace uncertainty and ambiguity. In the artist’s own words, ‘I do this to claim my language and to tell stories in my own way.’ Through a complex choreographing of mechanisms and materials, he creates visual, aural and linguistic experiences that forge new connections between image and text, language and identity, history and now.

Images: Exhibition view: Robert Andrew ‘Held within a word’ Perth Institute of Contemporary Art, 2023. Courtesy of the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane.
Photographs by Dan McCabe and Miles Noel