Sweet Barrier Reef

Sweet Barrier Reef (2009)

Materials: Sugar, vegetable gum, polystyrene foam

Dimenions: variable

View the opening of Sweet Barrier Reef at the Venice Biennale here:

Sweet Barrier Reef focuses on the event of bleaching coral. Coral bleaching refers to the process leading to coral death. River waters containing high levels of suspended sediment (nitrogen, phosphorus and herbicides) cause coral death and bleaching. This sediment often comes from harvesting sugarcane, and is known to be one factor leading to bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef. In fact, many large sugarcane fields are located beside coral reefs, leading to coral damage in places across the globe. In this project, Yonetani focuses on this impact by creating a reef of sugar. Yet here, sugar is used as a much larger metaphor, questioning the environmental impact of our desire to consume.

More broadly, this work seeks to focus on all causes of human impact that lead to coral death. Presently the most significant factor of coral bleaching and danger to coral is posed by global warming. Abnormal rises in sea temperatures lead to massive coral damage in vast areas. Coral is a very sensitive animal and cannot tolerate a rise of even one or two degrees in sea temperature. It can be classified into one of the animals that are easily damaged with human impact, such as a result of climate change, over-fishing and water pollution.

Like Yoneani’s other works, Sweet Barrier Reef investigates the relationship between human desires and environmental issues. Sugar becomes a metaphor of human desire. Sugar is also a symbol of colonization, modernisation and consumerism. This may be related to the intimate relation between colonial history and sugar plantations. Sweet Barrier Reef is inspired by the vision of the massive coral colonies within the Great Barrier Reef.

Sweet Barrier Reef at the Venice Biennale

Sweet Barrier Reef was exhibited in the group show Once Removed (Australian representation), the Venice Biennale 2009 curated by Felicity Fenner. College of Fine Arts (COFA) curator Felicity Fenner curated a group exhibition at The Ludoteca, a former convent in the Castello district between the Giardini and the Arsenale.

The exhibition Once Removed, presented artists – Vernon Ah Kee, Ken Yonetani, and Claire Healy & Sean Cordeiro – through a series of installations unified by themes of displacement, Indigenous and environmental issues. The exhibition resonatsed with international audiences with its themes of displacement and environmental issues, while also revealing a diversity of work by Australian artists.

During the Vernissage of the Biennale, Ken Yonetani also organised accompanying performances to his sculptural work. Professional models danced to Johann Strauss’s The Blue Danube and served sugary cakes to onlookers. The performance was documented in photos and on video.

Models (Performers): Elena Bittante, Marginean Alexandra, Dafne Russo and Michela Dal Toso

Costume Designer: Zephyer Huang (Zephyer Graham)