Still Life: The Food Bowl (2011) by Ken and Julia Yonetani

Still Life: The Food Bowl (2011) by Ken and Julia Yonetani forms part of the Mildura Art Centre’s (MAC) collection of contemporary art. It is a sculptural installation featuring a life-size produce-laden table. The work emerged from a three-month residency the artists undertook in Mildura in 2010 as part of the arts festival Palimpsest, sponsored by ANAT’s (Australian Network of Art and Technology) Synapse program that supports artist-scientist collaborations. The Yonetanis spent time at the Murray Darling Freshwater Research Centre and at Sunrise 21, a community-based organisation specialising in mapping and spatial information services, all the while immersed in conversations with locals about the pressing environmental issues they faced, not the least being the acceleration of salinity by drought. It was this link that led the artists to the material they would work with — groundwater salt, untold tonnes of which are pumped from the Millewa Barka/Murray Darling basin each year in an effort to manage the threat of salinity to Australia’s ‘food bowl’, that provides ninety per cent of domestically grown fresh food.

Salt is a powerful and highly ambiguous signifier, essential to life but also potentially toxic. It is also notoriously difficult to cast, the artists’ vision taking many failed experiments to realise. Like the best artworks, Still Life: The Food Bowl is an elegant synthesis of concept and material, a ghost-like offering of Mildura’s local produce, the bounty seductively beautiful, yet ultimately illusory, unsustaining and unsustainable.

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