Walking into Ken + Julia Yonetani's "Wishes" is like stepping into a bad dream. The room is illuminated by hanging chandeliers, their green light eerily flickering against black walls, as Disney's "It's a Small World" repeatedly plays in the background. This first Tokyo solo show for the husband-and-wife team Ken and Julia Yonetani is a visual comment on nuclear power that invites visitors to tread the fine line between fear and beauty.
Ken + Julia Yonetani's past works have explored a number of environmental and political issues — including climate change-induced coral bleaching ("Sweet Barrier Reef," 2009), the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands dispute ("Senkaku," 2013) and unsustainable agricultural practices ("The Last Supper," 2014) — and their viewpoint and unusual installations have gained acclaim overseas, having exhibited in Australia, Germany and France.
"Wishes" at the Mizuma Art Gallery, however, focuses on an issue closer to home and is the duo's first solo show in their native Tokyo. The couple were in Australia when the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami hit, having to watch the disaster unfold via new bulletins on television. They vividly remember watching an Australian news network and seeing Emperor Akihito making his unprecedented televised national address. His speech, the Yonetanis say, evoked the first time an emperor spoke to entire nation —Hirohito's World War II radio announcement of defeat.