Brook Andrew, seeing time I, 2021, mixed media on linen, 92 1⁄2 × 92 1⁄2".

Brook Andrew, seeing time I, 2021, mixed media on linen, 92 1⁄2 × 92 1⁄2".

Brook Andrew

A gentle and meditative exhibition, “seeing time” was in that way slightly uncharacteristic for its maker, Wiradjuri and Celtic Australian artist, writer, and curator Brook Andrew. Across the course of his nearly three-decade career, Andrew has confronted many aspects of colonial trauma head-on. For instance, in 2016 he made with Trent Walter a public memorial to Indigenous warriors Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner, who were executed in Melbourne in 1842. Many of Andrew’s works address the museological holdings of ancestral human remains and ceremonial objects. They frequently include items from the vast archive of historical images and objects he has collected. Conspicuously devoid of such references, the large-format square canvases in “seeing time” offered a more open and reflective space for contemplation and for the experience and registration of time. This turn to abstraction may reflect the sense in which, in 2021 as opposed to earlier in the artist’s career, all the world’s museums now appear to be striving to decolonize, thereby allowing Andrew to zoom out and capture a bigger picture.

The canvases on view here contained circular, oval, and ellipsoidal shapes derived from a handful of print screens, which were applied in different combinations to produce twelve unique but interrelated compositions. Several works, such as seeing time IV and seeing time V (all works 2021), featured circles within circles, which might connote eyeballs at one end of the spectrum of scale, a moon in the earth’s orbit at the other. Deeply informed by the tradition of collage, Andrew’s canvases hold together incommensurable visual languages: Wiradjuri words in roman alphabet, ancestral designs, formalist abstraction. This holding together echoes Andrew’s personal and political commitment to fostering complex and respectful transcultural relations, evidenced in his recent curation of the 2020 Biennale of Sydney, “NIRIN,” which focused on global First Nations art. Like the works of slightly younger Australian artist D Harding, of Bidjara, Ghungalu, and Garingbal descent, Andrew’s canvases seem to suspend judgment in favor of opening portals for contact and communion.

Andrew’s signature palette of black, white, red, blue, and yellow (the combined colors of the Aboriginal and Australian flags) prevailed, here with the addition of green. The curved shapes interfaced with the distinctive graphic swirling-diamond pattern that is now synonymous with the artist’s practice—inspired by matrilineal ancestral Wiradjuri designs found carved on trees and shields, but also inflected by twentieth-century Op art. Large areas of foil—in bronze, silver, and gold—caused the surface of the canvases to shimmer and shapes to come in and out of focus depending on the viewer’s vantage point. This present/absent technique recalled earlier works by Andrew, such as the series “Gun-metal Grey,” 2007, and “The Island,” 2008, in which foil subtly animates ghostly colonial imagery. But in “seeing time,” the technique was used in a strictly abstract manner.

The nearly eight-foot-square paintings ran the full expanse of the gallery’s walls and were reflected in the ultra-gloss floor, producing an environment that encircled and enveloped the viewer. While the blocky compositions made a bold impact at a distance, they also rewarded up-close viewing. Here, the solid-black sections of seeing time V give way to a fine veil of white dots evoking tiny galaxies. The thick paint-encrusted border of seeing time IV harbors minor imperfections, such as gaps in the pigment where the fabric was creased at the time of printing, reminiscent of Simon Hantaï’s pliage technique and a testament to Andrew’s appreciation of chance in the printing process. Other works, such as seeing time III and seeing time I, featured fragments of the Wiradjuri words ngajuu (“I” or “me”) and ngaay (“to see”) printed in sans serif. Combined with the jagged spiral design, at once ancient and resolutely contemporary, these words invite reflection on Indigenous conceptions of time as circular or recursive (a theme echoed in the moon cycle–like forms), as against linear Western notions of time’s arrow.