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New exhibition explores ‘The Last Temptation’

Laura Peppas

When artist Ken Yonetani witnessed the explosion of reactors in 2011’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident, he was certain it was the end of the world.

“It was the largest impact ever in my life,” says Ken.

“Radioactive materials are still leaking and causing ongoing contamination in Japan and around the world. I have still got an anxiety which I may maintain for my whole life.”

The accident served as the inspiration for one of the two installations that appear in Ken and wife Julia’s latest exhibition, The Last Temptation, at the National Gallery of Australia until 3 April 2016.

A centrepiece of the exhibition is Crystal Palace: the great exhibition of the works of industry of all nuclear nations, comprising of 31 uranium glass made chandeliers and taking up over 200 square meters. The large installation, which has appeared in exhibitions over the world, represents the “fear and beauty” of nuclear power.


Crystal Palace. Photo: Provided.

“People fear radiation because we can not feel it with our five senses;  it is invisible, untouchable and does not smell,” says Ken.

“We wanted to visualise the sense of radiation and we successfully did it with uranium glass and black lights.”

Alongside the opulent chandeliers sits The Last Supper, a nine-metre table made of over one tonne of groundwater salt sourced from the Murray-Darling Basin in the form of an exquisite banquet.

“We used salt as the material of the work as a metaphor of death of food but also survival,” says Ken.

“Salt has got many meanings in different countries and religions such as spiritual purify and suffering in Japan and ‘salt of the earth’ means stopping decaying the world in Christianity.”

Artist x

Artist Ken Yonetani. Photo: Provided.

Julia says they expect people to take away “more than one message” from the exhibition.

“We do not want to preach, to send only one message,” she says.

“We are just throwing it out there, like throwing a stone into a pond. We step back, and wait for the sound it makes, enjoy the ripples that can be seen even after the stone has disappeared. One of our motivating emotions is fear and paranoia, so we guess that may resonate with some people. For others, it may be intrigue, awe, anger, curiosity. We hope for at least one if not all of these!”

Drawing inspiration from environmental issues is nothing new for the Tokyo-based couple, who have been collaborating for over six years and have exhibited nationally and internationally, including at the Venice Biennale in 2009, the United Kingdom, Finland, and Germany in 2011-2012 and in their first major solo show in Europe at the Abbey de Maubuisson in Paris in 2015. In March they will also showcase their work at Canberra’s Enlighten.

The completed table.

The completed table. Photo: Provided.

“We have got motivations for creation of artworks with anxiety and curiosities to the world,” says Ken.

“Our inspiration often comes from our own paranoias and anxieties, for example about the environment.”

Julia, who met Ken over 20 years ago in Tokyo, says working as husband and wife is less challenging than it may seem.

“People seem amazed that we can work together,” she says.

“Actually, bringing up kids together, or sharing a kitchen together, is much more challenging than working together!

the essentials

What: The Last Temptation: the art of Ken and Julia Yonetani
Where: National Gallery of Australia Contemporary, by the lake just a short walk from the main building
When: Open Wednesday to Sunday 10.00am to 5.00pm until 3 April 2016
How much: Free
Web: nga.gov.au/contemporary


Laura Peppas

Laura Peppas is HerCanberra's senior journalist and communications manager and is the Editor of Unveiled, HerCanberra's wedding magazine. She is enjoying uncovering all that Canberra has to offer, meeting some intriguing locals and working with a pretty awesome bunch of women. Laura has lived in Canberra for most of her life and when she's not writing fervently she enjoys pursuing her passion for travel, reading, online shopping and chai tea. More about the Author

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