Art Gallery of Alberta

September 10, 2011-January 8, 2012

image credits [click to view]

Kevin Schmidt, Wild Signals, 2007. HD video. 
Courtesy Catriona Jeffries Gallery, Vancouver

This exhibition brings together the work of four contemporary artists from three circumpolar countries: Jacob Dahl Jürgensen / Simon Dybbroe Møller (Denmark), Ragnar Kjartansson (Iceland) and Kevin Schmidt (Canada).

Each of the artists references the idea of wilderness as a site for aesthetic contemplation as well as artistic action. They evoke a nostalgia for the wild, romantic landscape that was pictured by artists in the 19th century. Theirs are empty landscapes, seemingly uninhabited, pristine and remote, except for the presence of the artist.

Ragnar Kjartansson’s installation, The End, was made during an artists’ residency at The Banff Centre. Inspired equally by the German romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich, the collaborative work of conceptual art duo Gilbert & George, and the British rock band Supertramp, Ragnar’s installation is a folk-country music video with the artist and his collaborator performing in the snowy Rocky Mountains.

Jacob Dahl Jürgensen / Simon Dybbroe Møller’swork, Flotsam and Jetsom, consists of a group of sculptural objects, a vinyl record and a film. Constructed by the artists and a group of friends from the debris found on a desert island, the objects were used as musical instruments by this improvisational band.  Their performance was recorded and is played back in the gallery space, with the instruments now appearing as almost arte povera sculptures. There is a folksy, DIY aesthetic to these objects and their making, a creative approach that is an often a necessary characteristic of northern living.

The vast emptiness of its landscape has often been used to connect the image of the north to ideas of exploration, conquest and a search for the sublime or the utopic. These references inevitably speak of individual heroism and a collective search for glory, of the solo voyage and of the expedition.

Kevin Schmidt’s work, A Sign in the Northwest Passage, depicts a text from the Book of Revelations that was hand-routered into a large cedar sign. Schmidt drove the sign from Vancouver to Tuktoyaktuk, where he installed it on the ice of the Northwest Passage. Designed with flotation devices, the sign was left on site, to float in the spring thaw, warning all passersby of the coming of the end of the world. In the summer of this year, Schmidt returned to the arctic, on a second expedition to see if the sign could be recovered.

In another work, Wild Signals, Schmidt transforms a barren Yukon landscape with a performance of light, sound and dry ice. Inspired by the soundtrack from the 1977 Steven Spielberg movie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Wild Signals replays its minimalist, five-note sequence of sounds in a colourful light display.  It is an imaginary stage in a frigid northern landscape, with an absent band, performing a universal desire to communicate.

The artists in Up North each use the landscape as the site or back drop for an event that is performed by the artist.  Often assuming the role of the musician, the artists use music as both the structuring element for the work, but more importantly for its larger cultural references, that shift us from sentimentality to the apocalyptic.

Curated by Catherine Crowston