Blog Hop

Last week, Chrissie Freeth asked if I would like to participate in something called a Blog Hop. Blogging artists answer four questions about their creative practice before nominating two more to do the same the following week. I really enjoy the process of reflecting on my work and considering my artistic journey, so am excited to have been nominated.

I first met Chrissie through The Journal for Weavers, Spinners & Dyers, where she is Editor. Having recently written an article for their next edition, I have enjoyed getting to know Chrissie and learning more about her. You can read her Blog Hop post to find out more about her work and also check out the originator’s blog, Claire Wellesey-Smith for the start of the chain.

Without further ado, here are my answers to the Blog Hop questions:

Jo Atherton with one of her flotsam tapestries outside the National Maritime Museum Cornwall

Jo Atherton with one of her flotsam tapestries outside the National Maritime Museum Cornwall

What am I working on?

My next major exhibition is Stranded, a solo show taking place next year at the National Maritime Museum Cornwall down in Falmouth, UK. This will be my biggest exhibition yet and I’m particularly excited to be exhibiting my work alongside the rich maritime history of the region.

Cornwall enjoys a unique position, with the Gulf Stream delivering all manner of items from the other side of the Atlantic. I incorporate these objects into tapestries, weaving with netting, fishing line, rope and all manner of weird and wonderful objects arriving on our shores!

The Cornish coastal communities relied on beachcombing for materials to supplement their daily lives, so to be displaying my artistic interpretation of these well-travelled objects alongside old vessels and the rich maritime history of the region is quite an honour.

As well as an existing body of work, I am weaving two additional pieces for this show, one of which is an old lobster trap I found washed ashore on Weybourne beach in Norfolk. I am weaving directly into the trap to produce a 3D object which ‘traps’ many untold stories of the beachcombed materials, each one of which has a history. Where did they come from? How did they end up in the sea?

Stranded - weaving into a found lobster pot

Stranded – weaving into a found lobster pot

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

My work is very different from traditional weaving. As I am working with found objects, their size, shapes and flexibility differ greatly. The skill of the traditional weaver lies in following detailed patters and incorporating a variety of stitches and colours. Central to my work is the notion of narrative – I am bringing together a wide range of materials into a new composition. That text and textile share the same Latin route – texere, meaning to weave, the form of a tapestry seemed like the obvious form to express my ideas.

Modern archaeology - the stories behind found objects

Modern archaeology – the stories behind found objects

Why do I do what I do?

I have always been fascinated in narratives. Central to my work is a love of stories and a sense of wonder connected to the well-travelled objects I incorporate into my tapestries.

Every single material/object/strand used to create my flotsam tapestries has been found on the beach. Walks along the shore have always resulted in gathering an assortment of well-travelled trinkets and treasures, causing me to wonder who lost them and where they originated. Weaving found objects together allows them to be pondered and read anew.

I cannot write about weaving with flotsam without mention of the growing plight of our seas. Worryingly, Greenpeace reports that  marine plastics pollution  is now affecting all the world’s oceans. It is the cause of injuries and deaths for numerous marine creatures, either through entanglement or because they are poisoned, mistaking plastics for prey. Sadly, our seas have become a swirling soup of plastic fragments that have been thrown ‘away’. Unexpected and ignored fragments lay strewn along the tideline. Much like the stone tools, pottery and metals that archaeologists use to define human cultures of the past, a layer of plastic will sadly, one day represent our own throwaway society.

How does my process work?

Winter is undoubtedly the most fruitful time for the beachcomber, or ‘fossicker’ to use the traditional Cornish word. High tides coinciding with rough, unsettled weather inevitably result in more material on the tideline. Bad weather does not deter me from exploring the beach; I’m on a strict schedule, steadily investigating an area before the tide rises and washes everything out to sea once more. Armed with my fossicking bag, I wander along the high tide line, lifting seaweed, driftwood and tangles of detritus, often spending ten minutes thoroughly scouring one small area for an interesting treasure, ever hopeful of finding something interesting – perhaps from a distant place or possessing an old date, just visible beneath barnacles, or maybe something that stirs up memories and feelings long since buried.

I am often awestruck by the disparate collection of items I find on the high water mark of British beaches and am continually fascinated by their origins. By weaving these items together into one composition, I consider their stories – where did they come from? Who did they belong to? How long have they been at sea?

Weaving sits naturally alongside storytelling and for this reason I am interested by the ways in which flotsam can be interpreted. Working with found objects – be it a length of fishing net or a once loved, lost toy, the act of bringing them together in a new context sits at the heart of my practice.

Jo Atherton weaves with flotsam to create unique tapestries

Jo Atherton weaves with flotsam to create unique tapestries

*

So there you have it – an insight into the innermost workings of a flotsam weaver! To continue the chain, next I am nominating two talented artists that I am pleased to call my friends.

I first met Patrick Joyce at a Pottery evening class in St Albans, Hertfordshire. We ended up sharing studio space together at Fairlands Valley Farmhouse, part of Digswell Arts Trust where we both were awarded Fellowships.

The other artist is Jennifer Steen Booher. We met via Instagram earlier this year and both take inspiration from the tideline for our work. We are positioned either side of the Atlantic which makes for some fascinating conversations and swapping of beachcombing tales!

These two lovely people will be blogging one week from now, so look out for their answers to the above questions on Monday 1st December 2014.

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3 comments

  1. Fabulous and fascinating. I adore beachcombing and am addicted to beach glass and pottery! I love the idea of your lobster pot trapping the stories of the items woven into it – that really, really appeals.

      1. I use the sea glass mostly in my embroideries and also sometimes in my jewellery, often in conjunction with beads. I also recently used other beachcombed debris mostly plastic, in a journal for my North Cornwall holiday in 2013. There are images of all of these on my blog. :o)

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