Sydney Morning Herald: Yukinori Yanagi's Eerie Vision

March 7, 2018

Nick Galvin

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Yukinori Yanagi's Eerie Vision
By: Nick Galvin

In Cockatoo Island's cavernous power generation room, banks of switches and electrical dials line the walls, vast generators are bolted to the tessellated floor and dusty tools lie on benches, apparently undisturbed for decades.

It takes only a modest flight of fancy to imagine a manic Victor Frankenstein running up and down the gantry in a lightning storm, throwing levers to awaken his creation from slumber.

And it couldn't be a more perfect setting for a new installation from Yukinori Yanagi, a leading Japanese contemporary artist whose work often references the technological "monsters" created by humanity.

Suspended from the ceiling of the room is what appears to be a human eyeball, 2.5 metres in diameter.

Projected onto the eye, as it flicks disconcertingly around the space, are images of nuclear tests in the Pacific. All the while, it is accompanied by massively amplified rumbling sounds recorded from the explosions.

The effect of the work, Landscape With An Eye, which is part of the Sydney Biennale, is both eerie and compelling.

In contrast to the violent imagery he employs, 59-year-old Yanagi, who lives in Hiroshima, is a gentle, quietly spoken man.

Speaking through an interpreter, he is unwilling to explain his work too closely, preferring the viewer to reach their own conclusions.

"You could think of it like the eye of the god watching humans repeatedly doing nuclear weapons experiments," he says. "Repeating this violent activity."

Then he adds: "Nuclear fusion is like a man-made sun. Our technology is too close to god's creation."

Yanagi was born in Fukuoka in 1959 and went on to study in the US. The turbulence of world politics and, in particular, the vast changes in postwar Japan have had a great effect on his art.

He is perhaps best known for his work World Flag Ant Farm, which was recognised in the 1993 Venice Biennale. In the work, 49 Perspex boxes each contain national flags created from sand. A colony of ants travels between the boxes via clear tubes, gradually breaking down and mixing the flags.

"What is nation, what is a state, what is a border?" Yanagi asks.

Landscape With An Eye is one of three works Yanagi is installing on Cockatoo Island, all touching on the same, broad themes.

In the Rectifier Room, Absolute Dud is a steel replica of the Hiroshima bomb hung from the ceiling, providing "an ominous, physical reminder of the consequences of the misuse of power".

Meanwhile, Icarus Container, in the Turbine Hall, is a complex tunnel of shipping containers that represents "capitalism and global networks of distribution".

In the face of all this, does Yanagi find room for optimism?

"For myself I am optimistic, but for the world I think there is no hope," he says. "So people have to do something."

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