Sweet Barrier Reef

Ken Yonetani

Exhibition Dates
4 July - 31 July 2005

Sweet Barrier Reef focuses on the event of bleaching coral. Coral bleaching refers to the process leading to coral death. 


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, Yonetani's 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.


Yonetani has been investigating this relationship between human desires and environmental issues in his previous works. In this project too, sugar becomes a metaphor of human desire. Sugar is also a symbol of “Westernisation”, “modernisation” and “consumerism”. This may be related to the intimate relation between colonial history and sugar plantations. Yonetani has built on his work “Sugar project-Underwater” to produce a much larger work, inspired by the vision of the massive coral colonies within the Great Barrier Reef.


Ken Yonetani, 'Sweet Barrier Reef', installation view, Artspace, Sydney, 2005