The Last Supper, 2014
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Material: Murray River Salt
Dimensions: 9 meters (length) x 0.72 m (width) x 1.22 m (height)
“Da Vinci coupled the Last Supper with an image of salt representing a bad omen. Ken + Julia Yonetani created their Last Supper, an image of a large banquet, a feast before entering the afterlife, out of salt, itself another bad omen – foreshadowing the death of the ecosystem” Megan Fizell
The Yonetani’s first began working with salt in 2010 during a Synapse art-science residency awarded by the Australian Network for Art & Technology (ANAT) which resulted in a three month collaboration with scientists at the Murray Darling Freshwater Research Centre and Sunrise 21 in Mildura (as part of Mildura Palimpsest). During this residency, they developed a technique that enabled them to work with salt in such a way that it could be poured into moulds and then cured to produce objects. The resulting work was Still Life: The Food Bowl, a small scale installation featuring one table laden with produce from the Mildura region.
The Last Supper, a nine metre long banquet table sculpted entirely from more than one tonne of Murray River salt, is a continuation of this project on a much larger scale. The work points to concerns arising from increasing salinity levels in Australia and unsustainable agricultural practices. In the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster, the massive banquet of luxurious foodstuffs also becomes a larger visualisation of the problems of food security and safety in an increasingly toxic world.
The salt used in the work is a small portion of the 550 tonnes of groundwater salt from the Murray Darling basin that is pumped out of the ground each year to try and stem the increasing rise of highly saline groundwater in an area that produces up to ninety per cent of Australia’s domestically grown fresh food.
Historically, salt has significant cultural and religious properties. The title of the work, The Last Supper, also references the idea of a last supper on the eve before death – a feast before entering the afterlife – and immediately brings to mind Leonardo Da Vinci’s masterpiece, The Last Supper (1494–1498), which depicts Christ and the twelve disciples sharing a last meal before the crucifixion. However, the relationship between Da Vinci’s work and the Yonetani’s is drawn even closer when considering the significance of salt to both works. In Da Vinci’s The Last Supper close inspection of the work shows Judas Iscariot knocking over the salt cellar and spilling it onto the table. Salt is often considered to be a symbol of trust and friendship because of its lasting quality and the spilling of salt was thought to be an omen associated with treachery and lies. This work was commissioned by Hazelhurst Regional Gallery, curated by Carrie Kibbler.