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Resuscitating a 1960s Mural Buried in a Scottish Mountain

Master Rock
Cruachan Power Station mural (photo by Ruth Clark, all images courtesy Artangel) (click to enlarge)

It’s called the Hollow Mountain, the granite peak of Scotland’s Ben Cruachan, since an incredible cave lies a kilometer below. It was made by the labor of thousands of men, nicknamed “tunnel tigers,” from 1959 to 1965, and now houses a pumped-storage hydroelectric power station that still contributes to the grid. In its cavernous turbine hall is a long mural in wood, plastic, and gold leaf that tells the mountain’s story in both myth and modern industrial legend.

Construction of the turbines (1963) (courtesy Scottish and Southern Electricity Corporate Archive)
Construction of the turbines (1963) (courtesy Scottish and Southern Electricity Corporate Archive) (click to enlarge)

ScottishPower’s Cruachan Power Station marked its 50th anniversary last October with a performance commissioned by Artangel and BBC Radio 4. “Master Rock” is a spoken-word and sound piece by Maria Fusco that involves a sonic landscape composed by Olivier Pasquet. The work is based on the story of the mountain itself, and features three voices: the Granite, a tunnel tiger named John Mulholland, and Elizabeth Falconer, the long uncredited artist behind the 1967 mural. Until quite recently, her name was marked as “Faulkner” on the plaque in the station.

Philip Oltermann explored the mural’s story for the Guardian in October:

Elizabeth Falconer, now 87, was approached with the commission via her husband, an architect partner of one of the engineers working on the Cruachan power station and a native of Aberdeen. But the mural was created entirely in London, in her tiny workman’s cottage on the Hogarth roundabout in Chiswick. “They just told me they had a space to fill,” she says, sitting at her writing desk in a converted barn, “so I set about seeing what I could do.”

In “Master Rock,” the fictionalized Falconer explains that the “mountain’s story is vertical in the making, horizontal in the telling. My mural reads left to right, just as the eye leads in nature.”

Master Rock by Maria Fusco, performed inside Cruachan Power Station (2015), an Artangel and BBC Radio 4 commission (photo by Robert Ormerod)
Maria Fusco’s “Master Rock,” performed inside Cruachan Power Station (2015), an Artangel and BBC Radio 4 commission (photo by Robert Ormerod)
Cruachan Power Station mural (photo by Martin Clark)
Cruachan Power Station mural (photo by Martin Clark) (click to enlarge)
Tunnel tigers working on the Cruachan project (courtesy of the personal collection of Joe Bonner)
Tunnel tigers who worked on the Cruachan project (courtesy of the personal collection of Joe Bonner) (click to enlarge)

As the Cruachan site states, the remote mural “tells the tale of the Cailleach Bheur, or Old Hag of the Ridges, who was the guardian of a fountain that welled up from the peak of Ben Cruachan.” In Falconer’s carving, Cailleach Bheur has fallen asleep and forgotten to replace her boulder; the fountain overflows into the Loch of Awe, which goes on to fuel the station. Alongside these images are Celtic crosses, one featuring 15 heads angled toward the sky. These represent the 15 men killed when the roof of the turbine hall fell. At the end of the mural, the power station is activated, the water flowing through the hollowed-out mountain.

In “Master Rock,” Mulholland voices the bitter reward of this battle against nature to build the station:

We hardly ever look up from the work. Too dangerous. But this one time we do. We spy around us a mighty granite cave. But then, in seeing it, we’re all so disappointed, for it looks like we’ve found the cave, not made it.

The power station hosted site-specific performances for the public in October, and there were two BBC Radio 4 broadcasts. You can listen to one below, recorded on October 15. As Fusco says in her introduction, the station and its obscure mural “ignited something very emotional in my mind about labor and scale and social mobility.”

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