Kevin Schmidt
»A Sign in the Northwest Passage«, 2011
Video, colour, sound, 4:42 min.
Courtesy of the artist and Catriona Jeffries Gallery, Vancouver

Kevin Schmidt

June 24 – July 24, 2011

Invited by Nigel Prince (Executive Director, Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver)

»A Sign in the Northwest Passage« (2011)

Kevin Schmidt is an artist (*1972, lives and works in Vancouver, Canada) who has consistently developed a body of work that addresses notions of displaced spectacle within the context of the sublime. This ongoing proposition is tackled not so much through the usual references to landscape and the awe struck at the point of apprehending such beauty and wilderness, but by juxtaposing seemingly disparate elements within these environments.

Throughout the late 1800s British explorers undertook a series of expeditions to discover a route through the Arctic Ocean, including the frozen part of the Beaufort Sea, in ever more vain attempts to establish a shipping link to their existing colonial trade centres across Asia. Today it is known as a region of largely untapped resources and tough but natural beauty, while remaining a territory of contested sovereignty.

»A Sign in the Northwest Passage« provides an examination of such spectacle set as it is in an area of a massive natural gas reserve, a location sensitive to contemporary environmental impact due to the potential effects in using natural resources and the consequential results. Furthermore the video forms part of a series of works made in this most northerly area, poignant in the history of Canada. The sign shown in the video was designed to remain upright and float away once the seasonal ice melted during the summer months. With this sculptural part now gone other elements remain feeding a sense of evolving mythology – photographs, a book work and a set of watercolours given away as gifts; an exchange with friends that enabled the overall project and siting of the object to take place. The dissemination of the work through a variety of public sites remains key to the original intent. Schmidt proposes returning to Tuktoyaktuk in 2011, to look for the remains of the sign, the materials gathered also becoming part of the ephemera of the project.

Set as a journey across these icy wastes the new video seemingly documents a moment of discovery, deliberately constructed whereby the viewer is placed in the midst of the occasion. It recalls specific cinematic associations consciously evoking a sense of something about to happen. Handheld, individual shots probe a large-scale anachronistic sign in an attempt to uncover meaning. Apocalyptic messages carved into its black surface stand out against the surrounding whiteness. What is this thing and why is it here; what is its place in prophesying events or change specific to such a location that continues to be disputed.

Text: Nigel Prince