Jo Atherton is an artist who works with objects gathered on the UK coastline. Her practice highlights the diversity of plastic washed ashore and how the ubiquity of this material characterises our current geological age of human influence – the Anthropocene.
For most of my life I have been mesmerised by the transient beauty of the beach. For me, this environment will always be an exhilarating and wondrous place where the bracing wind is flavoured with spindrift and the ceaseless pounding waves remind me that I walk the most temporary of environments.
The lost, discarded and forgotten lay strewn along the high-water mark; their enigmatic arrangement a beguiling story, testament to unseen lunar forces. These innocuous remnants are imbued with an inexhaustible supply of stories, a modern tale of material culture to be muttered and embellished along the shoreline with each rising tide.
To harvest these resting relics is to puzzle over an anagram where letters are familiar but the arrangement is baffling. That which was once commonplace is presented in a new context – a syntax which speaks of anecdotes bound up in the objects that once filled our homes, destined to enter the geological record as nothing more than a marker to identify our fleeting place in ‘deep time’.
Using these found objects in my practice began as an exploration of material culture but has become an appreciation of something much more complex. The most significant patterns and processes continue unnoticed in our busy, modern world and it is only our steady accumulation of discarded materials which are making these visible. Our detritus is simply tangled up in these ancient rhythms which are made visible on the high-water mark of any beach.
As I walk our coastline now, so much more in invoked than the simple joy of discovering an unusual trinket. I embrace the liminal frontier, engaging with an elemental force so much greater than ourselves in a space where I feel anything is possible – until the next high tide at least.
Jo Atherton has collaborated with a number of national organisations including the National Maritime Museum Greenwich, the Cutty Sark, Natural History Museum, Bristol Aquarium, the National Maritime Museum Cornwall and even London Luton Airport! The unique concept behind her work has seen her invited to speak at a variety of academic conferences and festivals including the University of Cambridge, University College London, University of Glasgow and Royal Anthropological Institute. The broad appeal of her striking images demand both an aesthetic appreciation and something much deeper, fostering a conversation around one of the most important issues of our time.