Cat Horton: Red and Blue
Cat Horton responds to environments altered on an industrial scale, distilling them into handheld landscapes carved from solid blocks, capturing the materiality of place through this transformation. There is an ethereality to the work, despite the solidity and mass of subject and medium. She is drawn to locations that have been removed, excavated for their stone, leaving holes and gullies, heaps and rubble, remnants of previous, often intensive, labour. Her response to specific landscapes, or taskscapes in the eyes of social anthropologist Tim Ingold, resonates with my interests in human agency on the land.
(The opportunity to interview her arose through her participation in GASS, a graduate artist start-up scheme initiated by Cultivator Cornwall. A programme funded by the European Structural and Investment Fund, Arts Council England and Cornwall Council.)
Horton currently works with stone, drawing and photography, interchanging media during her exploration of specific environments irreversibly altered through centuries of extraction. Quarries are her sites of enquiry, granite, slate, china clay, places where unimaginable quantities of material have been removed, leaving deep voids in the land, negative spaces that confound expectations. For every hole, there is a corresponding heap of all the material that was not wanted. She has walked through the former slate quarries of Blaenau Ffestiniog in Wales, drawing and photographing this extraordinary landscape recently awarded World Heritage Status for its distinctiveness. The quarries may once have roofed the world but now are a testament to a bygone age of largescale extraction dependent on hand made manufacture in the splitting and shaping of slate. She pursues these themes through her work at Trenoweth Quarry in Mabe, Cornwall, where she works with the remnants of a once extensive granite industry as part of Quarry House Collective. Today, the masons work traditionally on hand carved projects amid the echoes and resonance of their 170 year old site.
Through working in such places, Horton connects to them, taking rubbings on paper and cloth, generating documents of their character. Hand carving through the flat surfaces of blocks of stone, she shapes new landscapes inspired by those she has seen. Bodily action, the rhythm of striking the chisel, the misses, bruises and blood, combine to reinforce the physicality of how she is working and the material she has chosen to work with. These miniature landscapes capture a spirit of place. One has its upper surface coated in the appropriately named ‘red’, a pigment found near Mevagissey and used by the masons to mark up their blocks. It seems she is creating new places from the remnants of a very old one.
This idea transfers to her latest enquiry. Terra Incognita reflects her journeys across vast altered environments to consider horizons, how they recede and appear in waves of blue. By amalgamating horizon lines from multiple locations she creates new vistas, unexplored territories at once familiar yet strange, fictionalised accounts of place.
“…the blue at the horizon, the blue of land that seems to be dissolving into the sky, is a deeper, dreamier, melancholy blue, the blue at the farthest reaches of the places where you see for miles, the blue of distance.”
Rebecca Solnit, ‘A Field Guide to getting Lost’
Intangibles (voids, distant horizons), recur through her work. It is a challenge of refining, moving something that is untouchable (a space, an idea) into something physical that exists and takes up space in the world. Horton does not demand to know where she is heading. As in a journey towards the horizon, things emerge that were not previously visible - yet the blue never materialises.
Writing By Sara Bowler