Ken and Julia Yonetani at GV Art

Filed in Reviews by on October 9, 2011

Ken and Julia Yonetani: Sense of Taste

GV Art

7 October to 19 November 2011


The nights are drawing in quickly. It was a biting dusk when I approached the gallery. Inside, cutting through the on setting darkness was the Sweet Barrier Reef. It was a work made entirely from sugar. Sugar sculptures of the reef had been delicately rendered to faithfully reproduce the natural organic forms that reside underwater. A mesmerising and motioning light was projected over the bleached coral reef, as though the sun’s reflection through the ocean’s surface had settled in this little gallery. Entranced by the motion I couldn’t help but stay with it for a while, even just following with my eye the way the sugar had been combed into circles as though it was sand.

I had to leave eventually though. Downstairs no more sugar but salt. Still Life. Inspired by Jan Brueghel the Elder’s painting that bore the same title; you glance at the table loaded with foods. White, constructed entirely (I’m still unaware how) from salt. Fruits piled high in bowls; grapes scattered across the table surface having spilt off the overburdened bunches, it was a representation of excess. A lobster at one end of the table alongside salt mills, goblets, candlesticks with the accumulation of dripping wax. Various fruit bowls and candlesticks were dispersed throughout the downstairs space, along with the most amazing chandelier that was formed entirely of salt grapes draping round from the main structure. The shadow it cast in the corner of the white space was immense, the intricacy of it just as decadent as the piece itself.  

There was something almost magical about the creation of these works, in the glittering hints of the sugar, in the attention to detail in the salt sculptures, down to even the texture of lemon peel. The most poignant piece was perhaps an immaculately ornate cast frame, one that framed a blank white wall, effectively nothing. The amazing aesthetic, the realism went a long way to exploring some of the problems faced by the world today; namely that of food production. Perhaps casting aspersions on a future where food production isn’t assured, as indeed, in speaking to some fellow visitors, the idea of a food production that satisfies the world’s population is viewed as a, ‘romantic myth’. Salt, at one time a method of payment, now used for food preservation is also something that the environment struggles with, high levels of salinity possessing the ability to curb fruitful harvests. Sugar, associated with richness, sweetness, effectively gluttony, is responsible for the bleaching of the coral reef, something I was blithely unaware of before reading the material to correspond with the exhibition. The run off from sugarcane harvesting that spills into the seas causes this bleaching of the coral, a factor that contributes to its eventual death.

Effectively, the Yonetanis have successfully managed to bridge the gap between art and science, a relationship championed by the GV gallery. The work they have created contributes to a pedagogical grounding from which to begin to understand the issues facing food production. Beautiful glittering works sit next to research files that list the problems facing the coral reef, problems facing the Australian food basin and the high saline levels that could affect the domestic production of food. It is one example of work that successfully highlights both an environmental and a political issue, and one that has been carried through works of amazing intricacy, the intrigue for me being sustained in my disbelief that such things can be made out of sugar and salt.

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Ann-Marie Rayney

About the Author ()

Ann-Marie Rayney is a printmaker based in London. Recently graduated from Goldsmiths with a Fine Art and Art History degree, she will most likely be found exploring London's cultural offerings or covered in ink at Sonsoles Print Studio in Peckham. To see some of her work, have a sneaky peak at her website here.

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