Contained fear: Ken & Julia Yonetani's uranium art

When the magnitude 9.0 quake hit the Tohoku Plain on the east coast of Japan on 11 March 2011 a very human wave of shock and fear ran through many, including Australian-based artists Julia and Ken Yonetani. Their current exhibition deals with nuclear danger. Still radioactive but contained the exhibition of uranium glass beads wired into luminous chandeliers “challenges the viewer in a direct way with the presence of radioactivity”.

The nuclear reactor, Fukushima Daiichi (number one) created in the 1960s, lost power on March 11. All its cooling facilities required power. It was unthinkable that all generators would fail. Trauma always addresses (or produces) the unthinkable. The plutonium alloy ripped oxygen from the surrounding water resulting in four hydrogen explosions which ruptured the containing walls of the reactors, releasing radioactivity spread by the northwest wind (coded in red, yellow and green) depending on the level of radioactivity – in curies per KM2. There is an eternal and invisible danger with radiation. Julia spoke of being influenced by Kurosawa’s film Dreams (1990). One dream of a nuclear reactor exploding under Mount Fuji, where they put powder in the radiation so that you can see it – reds and blues according to its danger level – was “a visionary dream” said Julia and “we were inspired by that movie to visualise radiation in some way.”

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