KThe works of en and Julia Yonetani expose the hidden connection between capitalism and overconsumption to environmental collapse, play eroticism and anxiety, and refer to the Greek gods of love and death, Eros and Thanatos.
But their series of works, Dysbiotica, began when they spit on the vials.
Looking into the lens of an electron microscope and observing the liquid, the art and life partners landed in their microbial world.
“There are so many things in us, literally from a microbial perspective, so our own DNA is only a small part of the DNA in us,” says Julia Yonetani.
This is not a disposable line – the work of Yonetanis is deeply known by science.
While walking through the highlights of the 14-year work on display at the Queensland Institute of Technology Museum, Julia Yonetani rattles the individual scientists whose research and ideas have influenced much of their art. ..
There is the view of microbiologist Caroline Hauxwell on the relationship between soil and human health, the study of coral reef ecologist Katharina Fabricius on the effects of sugar cane industry and climate change on coral reefs, and the evolution of molecular biologist Richard Jefferson.
Dysbiotica was born out of a 2019 stay with QUT researchers, but Yonetani is worried that it might be a bit too one-sided to call for collaboration.
“We were just choosing the brains of scientists,” she says.
Struggle atheist Richard Dawkins does not seem to have been consulted. Yonetanis’s work is also drawn from spirituality.
Check out Sweet Barrier Reef (2009), a work given a unique room. A suggestive bone-white coral head in a mottled, swaying blue light sits on a bed of sand-like material scraped into a Zen garden pattern. In fact, this substance is sugar. So is coral.
Yonetaniken is a freediver and bleached corals are infested in many of their collaborations.
The couple’s anxiety about coral reefs dates back to the 1990s and jumped from the islands of southwestern Okinawa in Japan.
“We went diving last summer and it was an amazing place, but now the branch coral was this bright blue and white,” says Yonetani. “It was dying.”
Coral has been the victim of rising temperatures and spills from sugar cane farms that cover coral reefs with soil, pesticides and fertilizers.
The other work is solidified salt. Still Life: The Food Bowl (2011) was born from a resident of Mildura. A table that moans with the weight of a feast made from salt pumped from rising groundwater to protect agriculture in the Murray-Darling Basin from the creeping threat of salt.
Agricultural practices must change, says Yonetani, but she respects farmers as much as she does scientists. In fact, she is alone. The couple runs a small organic farm just outside Kyoto.
Instead of petrochemicals, they grow beans, fix nitrogen in the soil, and hand over rice and wheat to it.
And as they watched the land improve, they began to wonder about the connection between life hidden in the soil and what was invisible in themselves.
So they turned to science to open the window to that invisible world. They spit on the vial. Looking down at the electron microscope, I saw the field of view change as I zoomed in. At first, it looks like space, as if you were looking at the moon. Next, the coral reef seen from above. Finally, the microorganism itself is revealed.
This was the journey that Dysbiotica was born with. The human figure and deer head, created from fragments of what could be bleached coral, evoke a world of microorganisms. It may be strange and anxious, but there is hope.
“Things, especially microbes, adapt at a pace that humans don’t think they’ve evaluated,” says Yonetani.
Ken + Julia Yonetani: To Be Human is free and will be held at the QUT Museum in Brisbane until October 23rd.