Vol 35(4) - Water Memory
In collaboration with the Murray-Darling Freshwater Research Centre and SunRISE 21 — and funded through the Australian Network for Art and Technology to produce work related to water salinity — visual artists Ken and Julia Yonetani undertook a Synapse artist residency in Mildura. This posting has enabled them to continue collaborating with scientists to produce works that engage with the fragility of the environment.
Salinity is a major problem for the Murray-Darling basin, known as Australia’s ‘food bowl’ as it produces up to 90 per cent of Australia’s fresh food. Every year, 550 000 tonnes of salt is pumped out of the ground in the region, to try and stem the increasing rise of highly saline groundwater.
The works Ken and Julia are producing are made from this groundwater salt, and are entitled ‘Still Life — The Food Bowl’. Still life, as an artistic tradition, emerged as current agricultural practices were being developed, bringing new food produce to the tables of a rising European bourgeois class.
Ken and Julia’s salt works bring us back to the environmental cost of agricultural production and link up with historical associations of salt — as a powerful, sacred substance that maintains life by enabling food preservation, but also one that induces the death of ecosystems. Our cover photograph is of Karadoc Swamp, an area within the Murray- Darling Basin region where irrigation drainage and rising groundwater tables have resulted in increased salinity and degradation.