By Erin Siddall
In her ongoing project Proving Ground, Erin Siddall delves into global histories of nuclear power, from the Cold War era to the present. It is a topic of enduring pertinence, not only in light of past disasters, but also due to the potential for new catastrophes within the current unstable geopolitical climate.
In Proving Ground, Nevada, Vancouver, Siddall focuses her camera on the once-coveted commodity known as uranium glass. Admired for its hues ranging from yellow to green, uranium glass was popularly used to make dishware and miscellaneous novelty items. First manufactured in the mid-nineteenth century, its production was curtailed during World War II. In the United States, the Manhattan Project monopolized demand for uranium, and it was subsequently used to fuel nuclear reactors during the Cold War.
Formally, Proving Ground, Nevada, Vancouver can be read as a series of still lifes. Siddall photographed uranium glassware both individually and in groupings of almost talismanic arrangements against the rocky terrain of a peace camp located outside the infamous Nevada Test Site. When illuminated with ultraviolet light, the objects glow fluorescent green, thus revealing their concealed radioactivity. Highlighting what she describes as the “invisible threat to the body” of these seemingly mundane objects, she subtly explores the “hidden trauma in the landscape.”
These in situ photographs are interspersed with images of the same objects taken in Siddall’s Vancouver studio. The transparent dishes—some in shattered shards—appear to float against a dark backdrop. In the artist’s focus on their radiant and fragile materiality, they become otherworldly reminders of the precariousness of peace and the innocent desire for domestic embellishment they once signalled. (Text by Zoë Chan)