In a darkened space, 31 chandeliers glow with an arresting, unearthly green hue. Ken+Julia Yonetani created Crystal Palace: The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nuclear Nations from antique chandelier frames fitted with radioactive uranium glass beads and UV lights.
The artists’ concept was triggered by Japan’s 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster and devised by the Yonetanis as a cogent reminder of the growing peril of global nuclear generation. Although perfectly safe, the depleted uranium in the glass is a by-product of uranium enrichment — a controversial process carried out by the world’s 31 nuclear nations. Uranium glass — also known as Vaseline glass — was actually used in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to create decorative objects including sugar bowls and cake stands.
Ken+Julia Yonetanis’ work was one of two Australian entries in the 2013 Singapore Biennale. The title, inspired by Victorian Britain’s 1851 celebration of world industrial might, The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, was housed in Joseph Paxton’s specially-built iron and glass Crystal Palace at London’s Hyde Park. The Yonetanis’ 31 installation chandeliers — one for each country operating nuclear power plants — range in size relative to each country’s output and highlight the global proliferation of nuclear-generating nations.