A Sign in the Northwest Passage

Kevin Schmidt

Presented as a billboard on The Power Plant’s south facade, Kevin Schmidt’s A Sign in the Northwest Passage (2010) documents the artist’s recent project made near Tuktoyaktuk, in the Inuvik region of the Northwest Territories. Aided by local guides and workers, the artist erected a large handcrafted cedar sign displaying an ominous text drawn from the Book of Revelations. Describing the decimation of the earth and humankind in vivid detail, it relays a warning that no one seems present to receive. This solitary sign–carrying an urgent message for the masses–references advertising culture and the city, yet is silenced by its surrounding barren landscape. Schmidt deliberately located this project on the ice above major oil reserves, where the potential for devastating exploitation is clearly implied. When the seasonal ice melted, this sign floated away to parts unknown, taking its cataclysmic message with it.

Schmidt is a Vancouver-based artist exploring the highly constructed cultural codings of the Canadian landscape. In his work, the wilderness becomes a site for staging elaborate scenarios and conversely, elements drawn from the natural environment are represented in contemporary art spaces, taking on a decidedly unnatural air. Positioned outside The Power Plant as a billboard facing Lake Ontario, this work is imbued with a self-referential quality, invoking this displaced sign within the wild.

Schmidt’s work is included in The Power Plant exhibition To What Earth Does This Sweet Cold Belong? until May 29. He will also be the focus of a solo exhibition at the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery, U of T, from June 8 to August 20.

Presented in partnership with The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery

Curated by Gregory Burke & Jon Davies