The name ‘still life’, when referring to the genre, was derived from the French nature morte, which literally translates to dead nature. The irony is not lost that a still life, depicting the nourishing foods that maintain life, is cast in a substance that simultaneously preserves food and prevents growth – thus embodying both life and death. Consumption and environmental decline are issues at the forefront of the work with the salt highlighting the death of the ecosystem from which the groundwater is pumped. The salt sculptures with their ghostly pallor and the effervescent fleeting ice forms embody the transient nature of the organic products. Through modern farming practices, shallow rooted plants replace native vegetation enabling the dissolved salts stored in the ground to rise and contaminate water systems on the surface. The result is saline water, demonstrating the way both water and salt are intrinsically linked. Through the Yonetani’s work, the need for a conscious awareness of where food is sourced and how its consumption effects the environment is reinforced.

Ken + Julia Yonetani, Still Life: The Food Bowl, 2011, Murray River salt,* dimensions variable (all objects life size), Copyright the Artists and Artereal Gallery, Sydney

* All the salt in this work was obtained from SunSalt, and originates from the Buronga Salt Interception Scheme on the Murray River.

Ken + Julia Yonetani directly reference the water issues of the Murray-Darling Basin in their sculpted still life tableaux, made by forming fruits and vessels from the salt drawn from the groundwater of the region. The Yonetanis began investigating the effects of salinity in the basin during their recent residency at Mildura. Ken Yonetani exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 2009 with sculptures made of sugar and it was this casting technique that was modified by them working with salt. Within the context of food production and preparation, salt possesses a dual nature. Historically it was used in the preservation of food, essential in sustaining life. However salt is also a poison. It prevents the growth of flora and the use of groundwater for irrigation. The title of the work suggests life; the produce and sea fare are living entities that have been contained within the sculpture.

The text from this post is excerpted from my article ‘Ken and Julia Yonetani / Janet Tavener‘ originally published in the June 2011 issue of Artlink Magazine.

Ken + Julia Yonetani’s exhibition, ‘Still Life: The Food Bowl’, will be on view at Artereal Gallery from 1 June – 2 July 2011.

{Preserved Lemons}

Yield: 1 large jar

The proportions of this recipe vary according to the size of your jar. I had a 1 litre jar and was able to fit 7 average size lemons and used around 400 grams of rock salt.

rock salt
large jar

Wash the skin of the lemons well and cut them in to quarters being careful to not fully slice through the end of the lemon. The lemon wedges should still be attached on one end.

Pack the inside of each lemon with salt. Add a layer of salt to the bottom of the jar and then carefully place the salt filled lemons. Fill in the gaps with salt, shaking the jar to ensure the salt is tightly packed around the lemons. Top with a final layer of salt and set in a dark, cool place.

After 1 week, the jar should be filled with juice. The lemons are now ready to cook with and enjoy. Will keep for up to 1 year and if you live in a hot climate, it is recommended to keep the lemons in the refrigerator.