Matt Kearnes, 4S Sydney co-chair
Although most of the 4S Sydney academic program will be at Sydney’s new International Convention Centre, some key events, including Making & Doing, the Trans-film festival, art exhibitions and the Banquet, will be a pleasant 10 minute walk away at the ‘Powerhouse’. The Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences – commonly known in Sydney as the ‘Powerhouse’ Museum – occupies the refurbished grounds of the Ultimo Power Station. Commissioned in 1899 as the first major power station in Sydney, it was designed to supply power for the City’s electric tram network. The Power Station was decommissioned in 1963, following the demise of the Sydney tram network in 1961. The modern, Powerhouse Museum was opened 1988, with a permeant and travelling collection spanning science, technology, history, innovation, fashion and design.
The closure of the Sydney tram network, through a series of planning decisions that broadly favoured private car ownership and the construction of orbital motorways, set the conditions for the emergence of inner-city environmental collectives that continue to reverberate in the contemporary politics of Sydney. Throughout the 1960s-70 the focus of urban planning activism was the planned North Western Expressway, designed to funnel traffic through Pyrmont and Ultimo toward the Western Suburbs. The Expressway would have resulted in significant property clearance and acquisition adjacent to the Powerhouse Museum and was successfully resisted by coalition of environmental, heritage and labour activists (collectively referred to as the ‘Green Ban Movement’ – see: http://greenbans.net.au/). Somewhat ironically, conference delegates will find a city once again gripped by public activism centred on a contemporary motorway project (http://www.westconnexactiongroup.org.au/ ) and the State Government’s faltering efforts to rebuild an inner city ‘light rail’ network, modelled on the previous tram network. To this end the Powerhouse Museum and ICC venues are both accessible via the Sydney Light Rail Network, while construction work on its remaining elements is ongoing.
In our partnership between 4S and the Powerhouse, the 4S conference will be utilising a range of facilities at the museum, including the Turbine Hall was constructed in 1901. The space features brickwork and high walls of the original turbine hall and currently features an installation by the architectural studio TRIAS entitled Four Periscopes. During the 4S conference the Powerhouse will feature an exhibition entitled Human Non Human featuring work focused on themes such as robotics, biotechnology, animism, digital labour, ceremony and indigenous knowledge systems.