Radioactive Chandeliers Depict Our Dangerous Nuclear Dependence

I’ve seen a lot of wacky art over the years, like sculptures made from trash or fabric made from glitching gadgets. No matter how bizarre the materials, most aren’t filled with a life-threatening substance. A new art exhibit by Ken and Julia Yonetani really pushes the envelope when it comes to hazardous substances on display in art galleries, however.

The Australian collaborative duo recently debuted a series of 29 uranium doped chandeliers as a reflection on the 2011 tragedy at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant. Each chandelier is made of hundreds of vintage uranium beads. Their unique size and shape is meant to represent a particular country’s consumption of nuclear energy.

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Image via Ken & Julia Yonetan

My first thought (and probably yours too) is: “Wait, isn’t it dangerous to make art from radioactive substances?” Turns out, infusing glass beads or marbles with uranium is all the rage these days. A small amount of uranium is added to the glass while it’s still in the furnace and in a molten state. As the uranium dissolves into the red-hot glass, it takes on the tell-tale pale green color we associate with radioactive materials. Although this trace amount of radioactivity will register on Geiger counters, United Nuclear claims that the beads do not emit high or dangerous levels of radiation, and are completely safe to handle.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s get back to these crazy chandeliers. The artists say this unusual exhibit is a means of exploring the fear of radiation that Japan has been living with daily. Using nuclear power consumption as a guide for size, it’s no surprise that the U.S. chandelier is the largest (pictured below), followed by France, Japan (pictured above), and Russia.

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Image via Ken & Julia Yonetan

“The particular focus of this exhibition is on shared cultural expressions of environmental anxieties within indigenous australian and japanese culture,” said Aaron Seeto, director of the 4A Center for Contemporary Asian Art where the chandeliers are currently on display, “and whether these function as either warnings or premonitions.” What do you think?

Beth Buczynski is a freelancer writer and editor currently living in the Rocky Mountain West. Her articles appear on Care2, Ecosalon and Inhabitat, just to name a few. So far, Beth has lived in or near three major U.S. mountain ranges, and is passionate about protecting the important ecosystems they represent. Follow Beth on Twitter as @ecosphericblog