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Printmaker / Bedfordshire

Jo Atherton’s unique flotsam cyanotypes have been created using the found objects she has been collecting on the Atlantic coast of Cornwall for almost a decade. For Jo, the tideline remains an endless source of inspiration which she reads as a temporary narrative, replenished with each rising tide. Her preoccupation with the plastic items she picks up stems from a curiosity and love of archaeology. Just as stone tools and metal fragments have been used to define cultures of the past, a layer of plastic will signify our own time, and through these forgotten fragments our own stories will be told.

Working in cyanotype, a primitive photography technique first developed in the 1800s, Jo creates bold images and patterns with a ghostly feel. Many of these everyday items found on our coastlines will inevitably become material ghosts, speaking at a time when fossil fuels and plastics were so abundant in our daily lives. These bold images present an uncanny reflection of ourselves, harnessing solar energy to produce haunting yet familiar remnants of our material culture. The technique itself, which harnesses the sun’s power to create these striking images on light sensitive paper references the energy upon which we all depend.

Millions of years ago, fuelled by sunlight, marine plankton flourished and then settled on the ocean floor, slowly transforming into oil. This same oil is used to quickly produce the endless plastic objects that dominate the everyday – a worrying and ironic connection to a beautiful natural process.

The process for creating the intricate patterns involves different stages of design and technical development. Found objects are collected, cleaned and placed on light sensitive paper to expose the original base image, before it becomes a symmetrical pattern using a graphic design package. This image is then transferred into a negative before being exposed onto the cyanptype paper once more to create the intricate and beguiling designs seen in this exhibition. No two images are identical due to the atmospheric conditions causing beautiful variations in blue, depending on the levels of sunlight on any given day.

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.