[ISEA2016] Panel Statement: Susan Ballard — The Radioactive Ecologies of Ken and Julia Yonitani

Panel Statement

Panel: Data Natures: The Politics and Aesthetics of Prediction through Variability

Any discussion of nature is inextricably linked to the data politics of environmental catastrophe. After the 2011 Tōhoku Earthquake and tsunami it seemed that no amount of data or statistics could ever encapsulate the true ecological impact of the most powerful earthquake to hit Japan in recorded history. Thinking about art in this context offers an imaginative and real space in which people can process the horror of abrupt disasters such as this. An understanding of the aesthetic energies of nature and their entanglement with the scalar forces of nature is the stepping off point for Japanese-Australian artists Ken and Julia Yonitani. Using uranium glass to construct Crystal Palace: The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nuclear Nations (2013) Ken and Julia Yonitani use a granular scale to map the correlations between potential and actual disaster. Under UV lights thirty one glowing chandeliers represent the thirty one nuclear nations of the world; the size of each corresponding to the number of operating nuclear plants in that nation. Some of the glass used in the chandeliers is recycled antique glass produced with natural uranium. Others are made from contemporary uranium glass, produced with depleted uranium, a byproduct of the uranium enrichment process, needed to produce uranium reactive enough to use in nuclear power and nuclear weapons. Considerations of scale and causal relations contribute to the question of what makes a difference amidst the atomic fallout. Natural disasters are never isolated events, they form equivalences that create social, cultural and technological catastrophes. As disaster mutates, the path from human nuclear energies to inhuman equivalence starts to glow amidst the flows of nature. This case study suggests that we construct a molecular tracery that journeys from artist responses to the ongoing Fukushima disaster towards the realities of climate extinction. In the retelling of the relationships between data and nature, and as countries consider the radioactive ecologies of nuclear energies, the case study suggests we enter a new data politics of nature.

  • Susan Ballard Ph.D, University of Wollongong, AU

Full text (PDF)  p. 386-390