By Jessica Herrington
Ken and Julia Yonetani’s work explores connections between science and nature. The artists create sprawling, interdisciplinary installations that accentuate the senses of sight, smell, taste, hearing, and touch. Their recent exhibition The Last Temptation at the National Gallery of Australia is an immersive and provocative take on the relationship between people and the environment.
Upon entering the gallery, The Last Supper appears as a magnificent feast. The artists have meticulously cast each piece of food, as well as the 9-meter banquet table, from salt. They developed the concept for this work while completing a residency at the Murray Darling Basin in southeast Australia. The Murray Darling Basin is an area in which European settlement has caused significant land changes over time, resulting in underground salt rising to the surface. This high salinity content in the soil is a major threat to the life of native flora and fauna in the area as well as farm crops. In the hands of the Yonetani’s, salt becomes a symbol of the delicate connection between our lives and the environment.
Another example of this delicate connection is found in the work Crystal Palace: The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nuclear Nations. In this work, the artists use uranium glass chandeliers with UV bulbs, causing the uranium glass to fluoresce in the dark. The size of each chandelier is correlated with the output of nuclear power plants in a specific country. Thus, chandeliers titled USA and France are the largest in the exhibition.
The catalyst for the chandelier works was the devastating Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident in Japan. This incident caused anxiety for the Yonetani’s as Ken Yonetani’s family lived near the power plant. The work reminds us that technological advancement can be beneficial, but can also pose a grave threat.
Taken together, the work in The Last Temptation: the art of Ken and Julia Yonetani is an innovative response to current issues. The exhibition is an exquisitely crafted, yet alarming sphere where we are forced to contemplate our future. The work reminds us that we have a say in how the environment is developed and used.
The Last Temptation: the art of Ken and Julia Yonetani can be viewed at the National Gallery of Australia Contemporary, from 12 December 2015 – 3 April 2016.