Ken and Julia Yonetani are collaborative artists who work in the field of sculptural installation, video, and performance art. They will give an artist talk will speak at RMIT Gallery on Tuesday 26 May from 12.30 – 1.30 pm. Free – all welcome.
Ken and Julia’s stunning work in the RMIT Gallery exhibition Japanese Art After Fukushima (until 30 May) is only slightly radioactive – the glowing work explores the sense of fear they both had after the nuclear disaster in Fukushima in Japan when Ken was unable to contact his family and fearful they were at risk.
But out of the horror comes something beautiful – the two works currently on display at RMIT Gallery are from Crystal Palace: The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nuclear Nations (2013) a collection of 31 reconstructed chandeliers that represent the number of countries operating nuclear power plants around the globe.
The title of the work references the grandiose building designed for the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London, hinting at the tension between human ambition, technological development, and its costs and consequences. The Singapore Biennale 2013 marked the completion of this series and its world premiere showing in Southeast Asia, a region without nuclear power plants.
Thousands of glass beads containing uranium were used to construct the chandeliers, which were sourced throughout Europe, and which utilise Uranium glass, antique chandelier frames and electrical components and UV lights.
“It means they are only slightly radio active but the UV light reacts with the uranium in the glass to make that glowing color,” explains Julia.
The artists are interested in bringing environmental issues in their work. They were inspired to use chandeliers while in London when they noticed them in fashionable clothing shops. Intrigued, they looked into the history of chandeliers and discovered the connection to the beginning of consumerism and the advent of electricity.
“Uranium glass is the best way to show the fear of uranium glass because you can’t see uranium,” explains Ken.
Julia adds that the uranium glass that have used “is made from depleted uranium and is a by product of the uranium enrichment process – so its like recycling the byproduct of nuclear power.”
And only slightly radioactive. Don’t touch the artworks. Look in wonder only, and ponder the consequences of nuclear power – and our own lust for electricity in the first place. And ask yourself – would you go unplugged? And then ask – who is making the sacrifice for our energy? For our consumerism?
As Ken explained to Lisa Pollman in a wide ranging interview in artradarjournal.com; “More nuclear power plants have been built after Fukushima and more wars have begun after World War II. I am not a pessimist, but I have to say that art cannot change the world. If [it were] so, it would have changed already. However, I could change my life through art. I changed my career from a financial broker to an artist. It depends on each person and how they want to change the world. That is why John Lennon and Yoko Ono said “War is Over! IF YOU WANT IT”.
Ken and Julia Yonetani artist talk at RMIT Gallery, 344 Swanston Street Melbourne – Tuesday 26 May from 12.30 – 1.30 pm. Free – all welcome.