Uranium glass all aglow but museum visitors raise questions

Uranium glass all aglow but museum visitors raise questions
The Crystal Palace art exhibit, by Ken + Julia Yonetani, has 31 chandeliers made of uranium glass

An artwork of uranium glass at the National Museum has set some visitors questioning if more information needs to be posted at the entrance.

The artwork, Crystal Palace: The Great Exhibition Of The Works Of Industry Of All Nuclear Nations, by Australia-based artists Ken + Julia Yonetani, features 31 chandeliers made of uranium glass beads. It is part of the Singapore Biennale 2013.

When lit by ultraviolet "black" light, the traces of uranium in the beads glow eerily green. The chandeliers are hung overhead in the black box basement gallery. Each represents a country which has nuclear capabilities and the size of the chandelier corresponds to the number of operating nuclear plants in that nation. The work was conceived as a response to the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan in 2011 and aims to explore people's fear of radiation, among other issues.

Uranium is a naturally occurring element with radioactive properties. Among its uses are as a colourant in uranium glass, a tint in early photography, in military weapons and to fuel nuclear power plants. The authorities had cleared the artwork for public display, after confirming that it emits only a small amount of radiation.

The wall text by the gallery turnstiles reads: "Caution: The gallery contains ultraviolet light. Visitors with health sensitivities, or infants, may wish to avoid this exhibit. Please do not touch the artworks."

There is no mention that uranium glass is used although the wall text inside the dimly lit gallery includes the detail that the work is "Metal, UV lights, uranium glass, 31 pieces, Various dimensions".

One Biennale visitor, Ms Yvonne Lee, was taken aback when told of the uranium glass artwork. The mother of three young children had taken her children to see other works in the Biennale, but had yet to visit the museum's basement gallery.

The self-employed worker in the real estate industry, 41, said: "I think organisers and artists have to be more prudent in such issues. There are people who are really sensitive or very particular about such things. They have to put up a more obvious and informative sign. Visitors can then make their own decision if they want to see the work."

Artist Jeremy Hiah, 41, visited the exhibit with his 11-month-old son last week. While he was not worried about any health concerns, he agreed that a sign indicating that uranium glass is used in the exhibit in the gallery would have been good.

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