Robyn Moody is an artist who likes to hang out in a zone where art making meets technology. The casual viewer of his work would be hard-pressed to set classifications for it beyond its beauty. From the complex mechanics required to rig an entire gallery room with moving art in “Life in the 2 Field” and the delicacy and subtlety of the mechanics of movement of a book – like that of a butterfly fanning its wings in “Butterfly 1: On the Origin of the Species”, to the fine electronics work of his analogue / digital franken-project consisting of a turntable and metronome called “TARDIS.” There is often a critical element to be uncovered in his works that would be best understood by hanging around a while to fully experience the work. Artists and makers alike strive for the skill of marrying form and function as well a Robyn achieves in his works.
Robyn is a Sobey Award nominated artist who has shown work across Canada and Europe. He has upcoming work showing in the Alberta Biennial in Edmonton. He lives and works in Calgary, Alberta where he is a sessional instructor in the department of Media Arts and Digital Technology (MADT) at the Alberta College of Art and Design. Moody has a BFA in Fine Arts from the University of Lethbridge in 2000, and an MFA from NSCAD University.
C: Maker culture is all about open source, sharing, learning and teaching. Where do you find your inspiration? Who have been important mentors to you as you developed your body of work?
R: I learned electronics from George Bures Miller, and I’ve worked with Janet Cardiff and George for the past 15 years. So I’ve learned a lot from seeing how they work together, and how uncompromising they tend to be when building a work. If a project doesn’t seem to have real potential – despite many hours of work and lots of money spent, it gets put aside. If headphones are needed, research and testing is done to make sure the sound quality is exactly what they’re after. That attention to detail is what makes their work so great, and it sticks with me when I’m building something. My inspiration can come from anywhere, though almost never from looking at other artists’ work, and certainly not from reading the crap that one is supposed to pretend to be interested in at art school. Some of my biggest inspirations are people like Carl Sagan, Richard Dawkins, RIchard Feynman …. mostly scientists, because they explore reality, and I want my work to reveal something that is real. There are a lot of nonsensical beliefs in our world; whether it’s a belief in a god, or conspiracy theories, or alternative medicines, or astrology, or miraculous “free energy” machines, or fear of vaccines and waves. This stuff is mental clutter, and in many cases extremely dangerous. I have only disdain for it. But I am interested in talking about it, because so many people do believe in it. Watching what is happening culturally or politically is really where my inspiration comes from.
C: Your work hits that sweet spot where art meets technology and harmonizes with beauty. What about those projects that have never quite made it out of your studio? Are there ideas that you have brought to light only to find that they just don’t work, either as art and/or technology?
R: Yes of course. There have been projects that required technology far beyond my knowledge in order to function – but the ones that I’m thinking of were abandoned not because it would be too hard to do, but because the idea did not seem exciting enough to drive me to figure it out. If the final product seems like it might be technically pretty cool, but is conceptually weak, then there’s no point in making it. It’s one of the dangers of working with technology – and we see examples of it all the time – that the focus turns to the “wow” factor, which is initially engaging, but ultimately boring and forgettable. There have been plenty of projects in the past that I have tinkered away on for months, only to realise they’re stupid one-liners. They all went in the bin. I try to make sure a project has conceptual potential, or makes me think of a number of interesting things before I dive headlong into building it. Not to say the final direction is necesssarily known from the start – it rarely is – but because these things take a long time to build, I have time to think about it, and change directions, and refine ideas during the process.
C: You state that your work often times is socio-political, and that you are interested in the “transition of the viewers mind.” How do you feel your use of electronics helps to bridge that communication gap between the artist/message and the viewer?
R: The fact that it is sometimes electronics doesn’t really matter. I suppose we’re drawn to motion and lights, so maybe it means I can trick people into sticking around long enough to contemplate what they’re seeing, and hopefully long enough to reach this transition. I used to make these things out of found junk, computer fans, and thin plastic sheet that, from a distance, looked like a pool of water. It would be believeable from a distance, and even the context added to this, as they would be positioned where the roof might really be leaking. But as people drew closer, the illusion would break down into its component materials.
C: How important is the process of “tinkering with stuff” to your work?
R: It’s probably less important than it used to be. I started working with electronics and mechanics when I was trying to repair motion picture projectors while working with film. I wasn’t actually very successful in repairing them, but seeing the guts of these machines was, I think, what set me on my current path. I was collecting loads of old electronics from the Salvation Army, like reel to reel tape players, turntables, 8 tracks, and of course, projectors. They were often dirty, or the tape would slip, or there would be some problem, so I’d have to open it up to try to fix it. Now, if I want to tap into some piece of technology, I usually have a pretty good idea of what I’ll find inside (with older technology anyway) and what I’m looking for, so it’s more directed. I think tinkering is more of a casual exploration.
C: You have an amazing network of fellow artists and other professionals you work with. How important is collaboration to your practice? What types of successful collaborations have you done?
R: I don’t collaborate very often, but I do have a couple of friends, Brian McKenna and Denton Fredrickson, who I do projects with occasionally. Those are always works that take me – and I expect all of us – to surprising places creatively. The final work is never something that any of us would have made individually, and decisions that might take me days to make on my own have to be made on the spot. It’s quite liberating in that way. But it does require trust in what your collaborators are doing, even if you’re not quite sold on the idea. It can always be edited out later if it doesn’t work, but there’s sort of a “go for it” spirit that comes out when we work together. Most of our projects have been in Amsterdam, where Brian is based, and are built on site. So after some preliminary banter I’ll find myself flying over to Amsterdam with a suitcase full of random electronics, motors, stuffed seals, and maple syrup, not quite knowing how of if this stuff will be used.
C: Do you have any upcoming projects we can all keep an eye out for?
R: There will be a new work at the Alberta Biennial in Edmonton in January, some older work in Saskatoon at the Mendel in September, and a newish work in Halifax in January. There are some other projects in North Bay, Hamilton, and Sackville in the 2012, but nothing in Calgary anytime soon. So go to the Biennial.
by: Casey Hughes