Sunday, August 26, 2012

Ken + Julia Yonetani at 4A - 22 August

A little while ago I couldn't even find my way to this place, now it is my most visited gallery in the last six weeks!  This visit was to see 'What the birds knew', showcasing some new work by previous Big Lamington point winners Ken and Julia Yonetani.   I was looking forward to this show, and not just because Time Out had labelled it a must see (I am not sure how well serious art places take a thumbs up like that, hopefully it is seen as a compliment!).  The Mrs and I really enjoyed our last outing to see their salt works last year so with junior critics tucked up in bed were off to Chinatown ...

You know you are in the right place when you see the big glowing chandelier at street level.  All the works are made from uranium glass, which sounds crazy nowadays but was quite commonly used in housewares up until WW2 (and its usage dates from 79AD!).  We didn't get to see it in a regular light but under that black UV lighting in glows bright green (see picture above, 'USA' from their crystal palace series).  Upstairs is a huge glowing green ant (I think this piece is also called 'what the birds knew') and three words made in neon light style out of uranium glass tubing.  I was quite excited to see the neon look achieved with the uranium glass, mainly because I thought ahoy, here's a way to get a neon sign without worrying about an electrician.  My enthusiasm was tempered when I realised I need to install the black light anyway.  Onto the unmissable presence in the room, the dirty great big ant.  Why an ant you ask?  Well I would've asked but luckily Ken addressed this in his artist talk, and it is a pretty good story.  As Japanese / Australian artists, this show is their response to the Fukushima nuclear disaster.  And the ant is their version of a godzilla like creature created by an atomic exposure.  They chose the ant due to the link to aboriginal stories from the sites where uranium has been mined in the territory (and in another link, exported to Japan). So I get it. And I like it. I do think that all these works do speak to the environmental fears that are a recurring theme in the Yonetani's work and I am sure the ant will end up in a museum that has a spare 6 metres to exhibit this bad boy (I think it would be great at MONA). But I did have a different reaction to the one the Yonetani's are after. You see, they make a big fuss to visitors that this uranium glass is safe, poses no health risk etc. So in a way, we are being desensitised to the fear of radiation. Maybe ANSTO (the Australian nuclear people who gave this work the all clear, and who gave yours truly big science prize back in the day) should start putting uranium glass in a few public buildings to soften the public up before they ask to build a real nuclear power plant somewhere? Or 4A could hand out lead aprons like when you go for an x-ray!

Points.  With only 5 works this will be pretty easy.  I will give the 3 points to the chandelier.  I think the ominous glow works best as a traditional light fitting. And I am looking forward to seeing more of these when the Yonetani's have a solo show at Artereal in October, apparently there is one chandelier for every nuclear nation, in proportion to their output. We do like big things here at Big Lamington so 2 points goes to the big ant.  1 point will go to 'radioactive', particularly descriptive of the source material. 

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