Liddell WORKS is a creative program marking the closure of the Liddell power station, and its long legacy. The core of the program is 15 artist “residencies” where artists respond to the power station with fresh individual expressions, culminating in an exhibition in mid 2024.
Originally from Newcastle, Sydney based sound artist Mark Brown loves all things industrial. His sound installation and photo media art works explore the phenomenology of industrial spaces, architecture, and spatial atmospherics. His practise has evolved into a site-specific and poetic response to places of industrial and military historical significance.
Mark’s father worked at Newcastle’s Commonwealth Steel Works and his Art making has been deeply influenced by the industrial context of Newcastle, underground industrial music and his memories of visiting the Steel Works in his youth. Mark had been seeking the ideal place to creatively explore and engage with the industrial heritage of the region, as well as the personal connection of his younger years in the Hunter Valley. Liddell Works provided the perfect opportunity for this. Utilising recording technology Mark has responded to the site of Liddell by documenting its sounds, including those of the turbine room and even the underwater sounds of the weir inlet using a hydrophone. Sound work, combined with imagery taken with a drone will form a part of Mark’s installation piece for the upcoming Liddell Works exhibition in 2024.
The opportunity to explore the labyrinthine spaces of the Liddell Power station prior to its closure was a truly memorable experience for a fan of industrial music and art. From the crushers to a lofty promontory via the temperamental lift then to the breath-taking turbine hall, the centrifugal heart of the facility. Using contact microphones to listen to the massive turbines spinning and humming at revolutions beyond imagination. Our guides Justin and Blake, electricians at the site, revealed the inner workings of the Power Station with its kinetic energy, piping, ducting, machinery, steam, high pressure fluids, heat and noise. The Liddell power station is a formidable leviathan’’.
‘- Mark Brown
Image: Mark Brown at Carriageworks, Sydney’ taken by Zan Wimberley
Liddell WORKS Residency artist Penny Dunstan says,
“An artist visit to Liddell Power station requires participation in an industrial schema. Everything is controlled. The right boots, Hi-Viz workwear, safety glasses and ear plugs. The right workplace inductions. Inside, it is like stepping into a set for Dr Who. It’s big, loud, greasy, tidy, rusty, peeling and there’s a smell but I can’t identify it. Big. Did I mention it is big? There are only three floors, but the total height is 80 m. You’d think that working at a power station would be dehumanising.
“Yet, at Liddell, it has worked the other way. Liddell is ‘she’ and her workers practise palliative care for her.
“‘She sounds different today’.
“‘She’s an old lady and she’s very tired. She just wants to go to sleep’.”
Dr Penny Dunstan, artist, writer, agronomist, soil scientist, is collaborating with Dr Melina Ey of the University of Newcastle for their part in the Liddell WORKS Program. Melina is a social and cultural researcher engaging in multidisciplinary and community led practice. Together they recognise that the transition of the Liddell site is a significant moment in the lives of many in the region; they value the opportunity to use art and creative practice to facilitate both reflection on what has passed, but also, on what the future of Liddell might hold.
And they’ve formed an unlikely connection to this technological beast, a coal fired power station, according to AUH Project Officer Suzannah Jones. “For them, as for Liddell’s workers, it’s no longer just a power station; it is a living mechanical object of immense proportion. It’s not just a mechanical thing, it is a being, an ‘old girl’. To operate her requires an intimate understanding of her inner workings, temperament, and her secrets. Liddell is not just about a place that creates energy, it is also a part of a community. A community that cares for and laments the passing of ‘’her’’, as one does for a friend.”
Working with materials sourced from the site, Penny has begun working on a series of bowls made from the natural and anthroposolic soils from Liddell, including remnants created from the operation of the power station, such as the ash dams, as well as site topsoils. As the project has developed Penny has widened her scope through fieldwork to include installation works, drawings through experimental practice and sound recording.
Melina’s focus is the written word, using storytelling to highlight the value that places hold for those who know them and care for them. The exploration of an unlikely connection between human and machine has informed a large part of Penny and Mel’s residency.
Penny writes: “‘All things have spirit’, to quote Uncle Paul Gordon1. Liddell has spirit. She has worked her way into the hearts of those who labour to keep an old power station online. My ambition is to create artwork that honours that connection.”
Image: Penny Dunstan and Melina Ey working onsite, Liddell Power Station. Photo taken by Suzannah Jones.