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Ken + Julia Yonetani Crystal Palace: The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nuclear Nations (USA), 2.1 x 1.6m (diameter) (Uranium Glass, Metal structure, UV lights), photo courtesy the artists, Artereal Gallery and GV Art London

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Sandra Conte


1 October 2013

What lights up your life?

For a group of school students it was the ‘Crystal Palace’ installation on a gallery visit – the immediate vision of the illuminated room drew them in like moths to a flame. Some fast talking about the uranium inspired and embedded glass installation quickly curbed the desire of those dying to touch it.

Collaborators in art and life, Ken and Julia Yonetani’s practice is not only confined to intricate, hauntingly beautiful green-lit, multiple shaped chandeliers – you should check out their earlier Global Warming Performance piece a la John and Yoko Ono to appreciate the breadth and depth of their oeuvre.

However, the siren-like nature of the handbuilt, ‘glow in the dark’ lights, caused the children to first gasp, be beckoned and then flurry in consternation about which one they preferred, as if ownership were the objective; following which they sat, hovered or circled near their selection of the best and brightest in their eyes, as if mesmerised and communing trance-like in the presence of a god of industrial power... and this is the reaction the artists hope for, certainly not nuclear, but a powerful one!

Indeed the magnificent installation entitled ‘Crystal Palace’ makes crystal clear connections as ‘the great exhibition of the works of industry of all nuclear nations’. Its title harks back to the original Crystal Palace building which that ever accessible ‘Wiki’ describes as, “a cast-iron and plate-glass building originally erected in Hyde Park, London, England, to house the Great Exhibition of 1851. More than 14,000 exhibitors from around the world gathered in the Palace’s 990,000 square feet (92,000 m2) of exhibition space to display examples of the latest technology developed in the Industrial Revolution… it was at the time the largest amount of glass ever seen in a building and astonished visitors with its clear walls and ceilings that did not require interior lights, thus a ‘Crystal Palace’”.

Equally astonishing as a ‘Crystal Palace’ is Ken and Julia’s same-named major installation project that emerged as a response to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant incident in Japan 2011. The work is comprised of 31 chandeliers in total, one for each country that has operating nuclear power plants. The chandeliers are decorated with thousands of uranium glass beads replacing traditional crystals, and lit with UV bulbs. The radioactive isotypes in the uranium reacts with the UV to form an alluring green glow. The viewer is prompted by total interaction, the connection between uranium and electricity undeviating within a beautiful and powerful aesthetic.

The artists have been working on this project since 2011. Some of the chandeliers have been shown in group and solo shows in 2012 at the following venues:- NKV Wiesbaden; 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, Sydney and Artereal, Sydney along with the Queensland University of Technology Art Museum (where I was fortunate enough to happen upon it with the aforementioned group of 8-16 year olds who took to it like their first disco!)

Julia explains, “All 31 chandeliers, however, have not been shown in their entirety to date” and the artists plan to complete the work during their residency at ZK/U Berlin in 2013, following which they had hoped to show all 31 works of art together in one venue and it seems such dreams do come true – the Crystal Palace installation will be shown in full (31 chandeliers, one for each nuclear powered nation) for the first time at the Singapore Biennale in October 2013.


See also http://earth-emag.com/?p=933

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