Jo is Artist in Residence for the eXXpedition team during their time in London and will produce a site specific project at the Cutty Sark during the Totally Thames Festival. Her shoal of flotsam fish will swim beneath the hull of the iconic ship as a sobering reminder that when the Cutty Sark crossed oceans, no plastic was found beneath the waves, unlike today.
Working with found objects, be it a length of rope or a lost toy, the beach never ceases to provide a starting point for me to weave stories of our time. The sea curates orphaned objects and presents them to the shore; a temporary narrative replenished with each changing tide. I am fascinated by these unexpected fragments, imagining who they were important to in another time and place. Like the stone tools and pottery that archaeologists use to define past human cultures, a layer of plastic will signify our own throwaway society. What will these discarded fragments say about us?
Through the colourful playfulness of my intricate tapestries, I weave strands of stories to engage the public with sensitive environmental issues in ways that distressing images of marine wildlife cannot. My creative practice has become a useful conduit to explore single-use plastics as most of the flotsam objects I work with are commonplace in our homes.
Increasingly, I have found that a disconnection exists between those living inland and the marine litter problem, with many believing the responsibility for clean ups lies firmly with coastal communities. However, with 80% of marine litter originating from inland waterways, and only the remaining 20% coming from fishing, shipping and the beach, this unexpected statistic never fails to surprise. I am excited therefore, to be holding flotsam weaving workshops perfectly placed by the River Thames, snaking silently past the iconic Cutty Sark and out to sea, providing the ideal setting to explore this issue.
Jo Atherton’s unique flotsam tapestries and prints have been exhibited around the UK and beyond, including the National Maritime Museum Cornwall, London Luton Airport and the University of Edinburgh. She was recently invited to speak at the University of Cambridge for their Curious Objects exhibition and will return this winter as part of Being Human, the National Festival of the Humanities. A Pioneer Cultural Provider with The Culture Challenge, Jo works in schools to deliver projects which consider sustainability alongside creativity. She has a BA (Hons) in English Literature and an MA in Cultural & Critical Studies, and is currently writing Fifty Things, an anthology of objects collected on the UK coastline.