Power 2: Heart Lake as seen through the eyes of Manley Natland

Power 1: Hope Lake as seen through the eyes of Manley Natland

Kling and Bang, Reykjavik, Iceland.
Kling and Bang, Reykjavik, Iceland.
Kitchener Waterloo Art Gallery. Photo Brian McKenna.

Where to see them and where they’ve been.

May BIAN. Centre Phi.  Montréal, QC. (Heart Lake)
         90 x 90.  Art Gallery of Alberta.  Edmonton, AB. (Hope Lake)

Chroniques des mondes possibles. Fondation Vasarely.  Aix-en-Provence, FR.
Transitio festival.  Mexico City, MX.
Confederation Centre for the Arts.  Charlottetown, PEI.
Made in Alberta.  Art Gallery of Calgary.  Calgary, AB.

Beneath a Petroliferous Moon.  Mendel Art Gallery.  Saskatoon, SK.

Lydgalleriet.  Bergen, NO.
sciencefictionsciencefair. Tom Thomson Art Gallery.  Owen Sound, ON.

KWAG.  Kitchener-Waterloo, ON
Hardanger Kunst Senter.  Norheimsund, NO.
PAVED.  Saskatoon, SK.

PM galerie.  Berlin, DE.
Robert McLaughlin Art gallery.  Oshawa, ON.
Kling and Bang.  Reykjavik, IS.

On the Power series: Hope Lake and Heart Lake as seen through the eyes of Manley Natland

In Alberta, a significant amount of the earth is saturated in oil. The difficulty of separating the oil from the sand was one that had troubled and obsessed people for years. In the 1950s, the American geologist, Manley Natland devised a plan to use underground nuclear explosions to separate the two. The heat and pressure from the explosions would liquefy the oil, separating it from the sand, and the resulting underground crater would be an ideal vessel for the now liquid oil to be pumped to the surface. Little concern was expressed for the people or the land that would be affected. Only when it was discovered that the radiation could not be contained was the plan abandoned.

These are the first two of a series based on water sources from within the oilsands. The profile of the lakes were chosen not because of any environmental impact that has befallen them (yet), but for their names. Hope for power (in both senses of the word), and hope as something that is vulnerable, and can be destroyed. Heart as something that sustains life, and Heart as something vulnerable, whose destruction means the destruction of life.

Hope Lake and Heart Lake are scale models of the lakes. The surfaces are made up of hundreds of spinning gears of different sizes. Fixed to each gear is a tilted mirror, which occasionally reflects light from overhead. As this is so fleeting, it is seen as a flash of light. The effect is a fairly accurate depiction of sunlight reflecting off the surface of water. The rumbling sound created by hundreds of spinning gears is reminiscent of the sound of rushing water. Motors driving the work are run through a looped recorded sequence; slowing occasionally as calm water, and speeding up as though a wind is blowing across the scene.

Most of us will be familiar with a scene often used in cartoons in which a character, driven by hunger and madness, sees a fellow character transform into what they desire, such as a roast chicken, and a silly chase scene ensues. Manley Natland, his colleagues, and many others of the time saw the world of Alberta not for the natural beauty of its lakes and land, but merely as a resource to be exploited, and the consequences of their actions well out of mind. For a significant number of the population, this perception is still the case.

Though referencing the oilsands, these works are more about the madness and denial of reason that comes about through a single-minded quest. The behaviour of those who rush to develop the oilsands as quickly as possible and the vitriol publicly directed at those who express concerns over the wisdom of this manic behaviour betray a madness, akin to a cartoon character chasing an imaginary roast chicken.