“We consider our works as a kind of healing process,” Ken + Julia Yonetani.
The large audience that gathered at RMIT Gallery on 26 May for the talk by artists Ken and Julia Yonetani ranged in age from school groups to art scene stalwarts and those with a strong interest in environmental issues. They were interested in the compelling narrative of the collaborative duos works which focus on environmental issues through a highly poetic aesthetic.
The Yonetanis work in the RMIT Gallery exhibition Japanese Art After Fukushima: Return of Godzilla (until 30 May), comprises of a disturbingly beautiful sign that glows with the word ‘radioactive’ and two beguilingly beautiful chandeliers from a larger installation of 31 works entitled ‘Crystal Palace: The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nuclear Nations’ (2013).
Presented in a black room at RMIT Gallery, the two chandeliers are theatrical but eerie, emitting a compelling green glow. One question from a member of the audience upon hearing that these reconstructed light fittings were made from depleted uranium crystal was – ‘where do you source such a thing?’ Forget all the James Bond movies you have seen – the answer, as Julia told a bemused group, was the Internet.
“Of course!” added Ken. “Where we all buy everything! It’s no secret – you can get the uranium crystals on the Internet.”
Harder to find, obviously are ideas – specifically, as one person in the audience observed – ‘how do you convey complex ideas about the environment, such as radioactivity and salinity, in artworks?”
Of course, that is a question for audiences to ponder and artists to execute. Some inkling of the combination of skills both ken and Julia bring to their artistic collaborations can be seen in their resumes – Ken Yonetani received a Bachelor of Economics in Japan and worked in the Foreign Exchange Market in Tokyo for three years, in a highly stressful job. Following this, he was an assistant for pottery master, Toshio Kinjo, oldest son of Jiro Kinjo a National Living Treasure of Japan, and then he completed his M.A. at The Australian National University School of Art in 2005.
Julia Yonetani brings to their art her background also as a writer, and researcher, and she holds a PhD from the Australian National University. Julia has held positions lecturing and researching in History, Cultural Studies, and Art Theory at the University of New South Wales, Western Sydney University and the University of the Ryukyus, Japan.
Perhaps in this powerful combination of an affinity and skill in research, writing, an eye to the marketplace and intense art training that the ability to convey complex ideas visually is manifested in their work. then again, perhaps it does the artists – any artists – a disservice to pry to hard into the Petri dish of inspiration and artistic imagination that conjures up art.
In a fascinating essay by Melanie Pollock their first book “Ken + Julia Yonetani” they explain “our motivation is not necessarily to motivate other people, but to express our own anxieties about the environment. We consider our works as a kind of healing process, which ultimately is very personal.”