Energy = a miasma of coal & carbon

Last year’s exhibition at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art celebrates Australian fossil fuel with its Einsteinian message, relatively speaking: Energy = A Miasma of Coal & Carbon. Oliver Freeman takes a trip to the Museum of Contemporary Art and sees a different kind of exhibition than what's on show...

Last year’s exhibition at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art celebrates Australian fossil fuel with its Einsteinian message, relatively speaking:

Energy = A Miasma of Coal & Carbon

The hideous public face of alternative energy in all its forms has been much publicised over recent months, especially following the climate accord in Paris at the end of last year.

Who can tolerate the noisy beating wings of wind farms and their invasive presence in the Australian bush? Their mutilation of bird life and probable cause of leukemia among young children and premature dementia for their mothers? Or the way the turbines inhabit our hills like crucifixes from a bygone era? A genuine Calvary charge to insult true believers.

Who can accept solar power with its eye-bashing panels despoiling traditional rooflines and urban habitats as they greedily lap up the rays of the sun? And who can deny that coal is our passport to the future, despite the fall in price, as we still have enough to last us, Japan and China for another 500 years?

It is no surprise that the stalwarts from the Liberal Coalition Party still think of themselves as a Coal-ition Party and want to tell every Australian voter about its love affair with fossil fuel. And, in the same vein, voters will have noted the introduction of the recent Brown Paper by the National Party’s Minister for Energy, the Hon Doug Coke, proposing a new museum be created in Gladstone to honour our coal industry and its history.

“I love a coal-burnt country” is the new anthem for real Australians to adopt and sing forth with great pride.

Ex-Prime Minister Abbott—who saw himself as the infrastructure and coal prime minister—opened the exhibition with these stirring words.

“If there is one thing real Australians love it is a good dig. Whether for coal or oil, for iron ore or gold, we dig a dig. Our Aboriginal friends play didgeridoos and our diggers have been heroes through a century of wars. Digging is at the heart of what it means to be an Australian.

“Now it’s time to celebrate our mining heritage not just in terms of money and jobs but through our visual artists whose works have been assembled with such skill by the curator of this exhibition, the indigenous expert Throw’Im Pickaway.”

With that invitation under their belts, visitors will be enthralled by the central installation ‘Yours or Mine” which brings together pit props, huge nuggets of coal and electric drills in an awesome display of metaphorical power and power as metaphor.

We loved too the ‘Smoke Stack’ room with its video loops of men at work down the mines as smoke drifts through the space, bathing the walls which are covered with euphoric post-its about the magic of coal and to which you are encouraged to contribute.

You are also encouraged to have a smoko and stub it out in the huge ashtray that has been created by a wind turbine blade suspended laterally from the ceiling.

The ‘Picture This’ room is not to be missed. Ten winners of the Archibald Prize have been asked to portray the likenesses using charcoal of Australia’s living mining heroes like Twiggy Forrest, Gina Rinehart, Ivan Glasberg and Angela Bennett.

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie. Dig! Dig! Dig!

The exhibition runs June to September 2026

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