Robyn Moody’s kinetic sculpture Power 2: Heart Lake as seen through the eyes of Manley Natland deals in an atmosphere of sublime doom, both seductive and threatening. A scale model of the eponymous lake threatened by oil sands development in Northern Alberta, the piece “begins” after you set off a motion detector positioned at the gallery’s entrance. Hundreds of tiny gears equipped with tilted mirrors begin turning, creating a rumbling, rattling, and whirring sound that alternately speeds and slows in a seemingly organic fashion, and resembles nothing so much as blowing rain hitting a tin roof, or water rushing across a pebbly stream bed. This noise fills the room, as light reflected on the mirrors flashes across the surface of the work, like sunset on the waves of a lake. The tiny mirrors create the effect of swelling and falling, and as the turning mechanical heads flicker in and out of vision, the effect is soothing, even hypnotic, yet eerily artificial and menacing. The expansive horizontality of the piece suggests a spreading Malthusian phenomenon-little insect-like or robotic heads rolling across space like a wave, or a smooth oil slick that fills every pore and crack of the earth. And the apocalyptic, nightmarish feel of the work is heightened by its theatrical presentation in a darkened room.
The piece, by mapping Heart Lake’s shape, makes explicit reference to a real place charged by its position at the edge of the growing and controversial phenomenon of oil sands development in Alberta, Moody’s home province. It also makes reference in its title to Manley Natland, a pioneer in the development of oil sands technology, a visionary who saw nature chiefly as a boundless reserve of energy. Moody reinterprets this vision as an inverted ecology, a self-perpetuating system of madness spinning out of control. Making full use of the rhetorical power of installation art-its creation of an environment that envelops the viewer and spreads to every corner of a space-the sensual effect of the piece is even more compelling than its references. The work seduces, and draws the viewer into a contemplation of things that move seemingly beyond our control, whether they are the workings of nature or an ongoing quest to master the world, a quest that seems to master us in equal degrees. Heart Lake is after all merely the subtitle of the piece, Power is its title.