The Last Supper Table, Reimagined With Salt

Mar 21, 2014 at 10:39 AM ET

Australian artists Ken and Julia Yonetani are fascinated with difficult materials; they’ve created birds from uranium glass, a coral reef from sugar and foam, and large-scale messages from UV lights. Now in their most recent project, the husband-and-wife pair picks up where Leonardo da Vinci left off, molding their own majestic “Last Supper”—a nearly 30-foot banquet table—from Australian salt. The project will tour various Australian galleries beginning Saturday, March 22, at Sutherland Shire’s Hazelhurst Regional Gallery and Arts Centre.

Salt, the couple says, has a multitude of meanings across various cultures and religions. “Salt becomes a metaphor not only for the impacts of salinity, but for broader issues of food security and food safety in an increasingly toxic world,” Julia says.

The couple first began working with salt, which is notoriously difficult to cast, during an artistic residency at Mildura—a town in the the Australian outback on Murray Darling River. The pair helped study the salinity levels of the Mildura landscape alongside environmentalists and decided to use salt from the Murray-Darling Basin, reaped through an irrigation system that removes salt from local groundwater.

The Yonetani’s first effort in salt, “Still Life: The Food Bowl,” is a smaller, all-salt sculpture that brings to life the two-dimensional tableau of history. “Humans have a very complex relationship with salt,” Julia says. “It is the only material apart from water that we absolutely cannot live without. Too much of it, and we die.”

To build “Last Supper,” the two used one ton of salt from the Murray River, casting the fruits, dishes and candle sticks using molds. Though they wouldn’t reveal how they bound the porous material together, the result is a highly realistic, 21st-century take on a topic of biblical magnitude. “The image is one of a large banquet, a feast before entering the afterlife,” Julia says. “In this way notions of food, consumption, death and the spiritual all merge together.”