1000 elongated glass yams suggest toxic plume


Cloud Chamber 2020 (illustrated) by Yhonnie Scarce is based upon the form of a rising atomic cloud after a devastating nuclear blast, the hand-blown yam shapes in glass hang in the air like inverted raindrops capturing the light.

Whereas clouds usually signal rain on Kokatha and Nukunu artist Scarce’s desert Country in South Australia, this unsettled cumulus suggests something less welcome — a toxic plume raining poison on the land. Cloud Chamber was conceived as a memorial in response to the British nuclear tests conducted at Maralinga, South Australia, between 1953 and 1963. Drawing on historical photographs, Scarce communicates the virulent force of the airborne radiation which had a devastating impact on her people.

Watch: ‘Cloud Chamber’ installation time-lapse

Watch: Yhonnie Scarce introduces ‘Cloud Chamber’

The glass yams refer to traditional bush foods that could no longer sustain Aboriginal communities in the scarred earth of the bombs’ aftermath. Suspended and inert, they bear a haunting resemblance to brutalised organs.

Scarce’s use of glass connects vitally to Country. Silica in the desert sand, melted by the intense heat of the blasts, turns to glass. Heated and shaped by the artist’s breath, this is a medium she returns to frequently, finding in its lightness, clarity and transparency the qualities necessary for truth-telling.

Yhonnie Scarce, Kokatha and Nukunu peoples, Australia b.1973 / Installation view of Cloud Chamber 2020 in ‘Air’, Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane 2022 / Glass / 760 x 350cm / Collection: TarraWarra Museum of Art, Healesville, Victoria / © Yhonnie Scarce / Photograph: C Callistemon © QAGOMA

Air’ / Gallery of Modern Art, Gallery 1.1 (The Fairfax Gallery), Gallery 1.2 & Gallery 1.3 (Eric and Marion Taylor Gallery) / 26 November 2022 to 23 April 2023