The Hemmick Ablatives: maps on the anthropogenic

Sea glass is a physically and chemically weathered form of anthropogenic glass, ejected by the oceans, and found deposited  on beaches around the world.

Sea glass has a far less damaging impact on the health of our oceans than plastic, but it is nevertheless an obvious and persistent reminder of the of the impact of our industrial activities on our planet. Washed up on remote beaches it has become an important indicator of anthropogenic pollution.

Naturally produced sea glass originates as normal shards of broken glass, for example from broken bottles, broken tableware, or even shipwrecks. These fragments are persistently tumbled and ground by the sea until the sharp edges are smoothed and rounded. In this process, the slickness and sharpness of the original glass is also lost, but it gains a beautiful worn and frosted appearance. Sea glass takes around 20 to 30 years, and sometimes even as much as 50 years to acquire its characteristic texture and shape. The most commonly found colours are green, brown, and clear and this type of sea glass normally derives from glass bottles.


Above is a small selection of some of the sea glass that I recently found on Hemmick beach in Cornwall over a period of collection of a week, and which forms the basis of a new series of work.



The glass itself is beautiful but when observed under a powerful microscope (as above), its surface is revealed as a highly detailed map that plots the long journey of each individual piece of glass, and its manifold collisions with sand grains and rocks, which could potentially trace back to the origins of the anthropocene itself. See below for examples:


Above is a relatively slick and thus new fragment of sea glass with limited etching



An aged piece of sea glass showing its journey and manifold impacts with sand grains and rock.


An aged piece of sea glass showing its journey and manifold impacts with sand grains and rock.

I find it extraordinary how closely these microscopic maps, revealed on anthropogenic surfaces, reflect the power and transformational properties of the seas.


Leave a Reply