Jessica Houston

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Horizon Felt

Following the trail of Franklin’s voyage to discover the Northwest passage, I sailed on the Russian ship Akademik Ioffe, where I visited Cambridge Bay, Bellot Straight, Fort Ross, Beechy Island, and Baffin Island. The paintings, photographs, and objects made during and after this voyage touch upon the relationship to place through the prism of exploration, colonization, and climate change. The paintings’ white surfaces are offset by elements of color drawn directly from the Arctic landscape. The pale blank of white horizon is contradicted by the colors taken from seaweed, moss, berries, grave stones, abandoned outposts designated for maintaining sovereignty, glaciers—all hues which disrupt notions of the ‘pure’, uninhabited, white north. Using the horizon and the colors of the landscape as points of reference, I placed different colored felt in front of my lens as I photographed the landscape. The felt filters and flattens part of the image—while simultaneously maintaining a long view. It gives tactility to the images, bringing touch and sight together. The horizon is a viewpoint always beyond reach; it describes limits of perception. As polar space—once considered the limit of empire and human experience—is becoming more accessible with open waters, the fight for claims to resources magnifies. Color ‘slips into’ these works, as if from the sky, or ground. The visual grammar is interrupted, inviting the viewer to fill in the gaps.

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