Proving Ground, c-prints, 2015-2017
The Pen, video film stills, 17min, 2015
Proving Ground is a photographic, film, and sculptural installation series considering the problem of how to represent the unrepresentable with images: invisible environmental hazards, hidden histories, traumatic events, including finding the arbitrary divisions between safe and unsafe. Proving Ground investigates how in the current era of instability and escalating nuclear risk, histories of the post-nuclear era resist being represented.
This work is currently heighted in the exhibitions Proving Ground: Nevada, Vancouver and Proving Ground: Nevada, Toronto in 2018, and a May 15th screening of The Pen at the VAG/Cinemateque in conjuction with Cineworks.
In the photographic series Proving Ground: Nevada uranium glass dishware is placed and photographed on the archaeological remains at the site of the now inactive iconic Cold War era anti-nuclear protest camp adjacent to the Mercury Nuclear test site in Nevada. In the pre-nuclear era, uranium oxide was routinely mined in Canada to provide the color for depression-era dishware given for free by food companies, cinemas, and bowling alleys to entice customers. Uranium glass production ended in the early 1940’s as uranium was used instead for nuclear testing. The green glow the dishes emit is the result of light shone to detect the normally imperceptible radioactivity. The problematic materiality of the dishes is revealed through the documentation: an invisible threat to the body is in contrast to the objects’ benign domesticity. The artist’s placement of these dishes calls up the now absent bodies of the former protestors, and as an imperative reminder to re-inhabit the spaces of protest.
Accessed by tunnel from the protest encampment, a chain-link ring once used to detain protesters still stands beside the outermost entryway into the restricted test site. Filmed on the 70th anniversary of the dropping of the first Atomic bomb on Hiroshima, The Pen is a 17 minutes video work which considers the empty enclosure as an object defining a precise discipline, mimicking the high-security fencing surrounding the entire test site.
Additional TEXT for Proving Ground: Nevada, Vancouver, by Zoe Chan.
In her ongoing project Proving Ground, Erin Siddall delves into global histories of nuclear power, from the Cold War era to the present—a topic of enduring pertinence, not only in light of past disasters, but also with the potential for new catastrophes within the current unstable geopolitical climate.
With the objective of shedding light of these seemingly “unrepresentable” histories as she puts it, Siddall focuses her camera on the once coveted commodity known as uranium glass in Proving Ground, Nevada, Vancouver, a new iteration of Proving Ground. 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 US, the Manhattan Project monopolized demand for uranium, and subsequently, it was used to fuel nuclear reactors during the Cold War.
Formally, Proving Ground, Nevada, Vancouver can be read as a series of still lifes. Documenting this little-known history of material culture, Siddall photographs uranium glassware both individually and in groupings of almost talismanic arrangements against the rocky terrain of a peace camp located outside the infamous Nevada Testing Site. By shining an ultraviolet light onto these objects—symbols of the peace protesters themselves—Siddall transforms them into a glowing fluorescent shade of green, thus revealing their concealed radioactivity. Highlighting what she describes as the “invisible threat to the body” of these seemingly mundane objects, Siddall subtly explores the “hidden trauma in the landscape.”
These photographs taken in situ are interspersed with other photographs of the same objects, but this time photographed miles away from the Nevada site in the safety of her Vancouver studio. The transparent bowls, cups, and saucers—some in shattered shards—appear to float against a dark backdrop. In Siddall’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.