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Conceptual Assemblage


The story of limpets, those conical creatures frequently found on rocky shores is usually told through taxonomy. Within the Mollusca phylum, which includes over 100,000 recognised invertebrate species, limpets are more specifically classified as marine gastropods, a type of single shelled sea-snail (Trewhella and Hatchet, 2015). They may seem inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, but this is not the case. I am finding that if given careful, prolonged attention, room to express themselves and an engaged, receptive audience they reveal a different, richly entangled, potentially transformative story which unfolds over many thousands of years.

Art-based Research


A process of art-based research brings about and channels this attentiveness, provides physical room, makes space for creative inquiry, corresponds with humans and nonhumans and generates a willing, participative audience, extending and enlivening the taxonomical tale.


As an experimental, reflexive, transdisciplinary process of practitioner research, participatory action research and practical making, art-based research methodology is necessarily emergent being subjected to repeated questioning and adjustment, rather than remaining fixed throughout the process of inquiry. Art-based research provides a freedom of inquiry, responding to particular questions or issues across disciplines, dissolving disciplinary boundaries thereby offering new ways of knowing and communicating (McNiff, 2018). 


New materialism 


The Human Limpet Project research is underpinned by the new materialist concept of assemblage. New materialism has emerged over the past thirty or so years and as an approach is broadly concerned with rethinking and reimagining our philosophical beliefs about materiality. New materialists are abandoning previously held dominant views of matter as an inert, ‘dead’ substance subject to predictable causal forces. Instead, matter is considered to have vitality and a capacity for agency which is self-creative, productive and unpredictable. (Coole and Frost, 2010). 


Questioning the long standing anthropocentric view that humans are the makers of the world and that the world is a passive resource for human endeavours, new materialism de-centres human agency, and in so doing crosses a range of social theory divides including nature-culture, human-nonhuman, animate-inanimate. Such oppositional ways of thinking are shunned and processes of materialisation are emphasised as relational networks or assemblages of animate and inanimate matter (Fox and Alldred, 2015).




From a new materialist perspective, assemblages are characterised as ‘event-spaces’ where human and nonhuman bodies correspond, acting together socially, continuously affecting and being affected by the other. They are ad hoc groupings, ‘throbbing confederations’ of diverse elements that work together to make things happen. Assemblages are not governed by any central head and no one type of material on its own determines the shape or course of the group. The effects generated by an assemblage emerge as each of the ‘member-actants’ cross paths, some crossing more frequently or more powerfully than others (Bennett, 2010).


The Human Limpet Project as a whole is viewed as a ‘research-assemblage’, comprised of the ‘events, instruments and researchers’ involved. Assemblage thinking and practice opens up all of the intertwining research elements, all the human and nonhuman materials that constitute the study, their ‘affective flows’ and capacities for action and interaction (Fox and Alldred, 2015). The Human Limpet Project in this way is regarded as a league of art practices, methodologies, literary references, other artists’ influences, physical and digital spaces,  journeys made, places visited, sensations, memories, connected establishments, participant exchanges and contributions, ethical principles, funding, supervisor and reviewer input, the researcher herself and of course limpets.


Methodological Assemblages


Three methodological elements comprise the research: Wunderkammer, Correspondences and Limpeteering and each are also regarded as an assemblage: 




The Limpetarium, a contemporary limpet-focused wunderkammer is an assemblage defined by its hybrid exhibition-art-studio-space, which serves as a collection, work of art, social space, private workplace and place of research.


Through assemblage thinking and practice, The Limpetarium is considered as a coming together of its various parts, its spatial and temporal location, physical dimensions, furnishings, lighting, sounds, smell, atmosphere and visitor engagements, as well as its objects and artworks. All play a part in its making, affects and impact although not necessarily consistently, equally or evenly.


The dissolved distinctions between animate-inanimate and nature-culture that occur within assemblages correspond directly with the contemporary wunderkammer. In The Limpetarium, myriad natural and human-made limpet things are assembled, displayed and often melded together in a fluid, unfixed, somewhat unsettling space, creating curiously new combinations and wondrously entangled formations.




Correspondences, is a term borrowed from anthropologist Tim Ingold and his book of the same name. Within The Human Limpet Project it describes an assemblage of human and more-than-human participants and their entangled social relations. Correspondences are concerned with the ‘inbetween-ness’ of human and nonhuman beings, the process of their joining and mingling, and their emergent dialogues and stories (Ingold, 2021, p.9).  


Correspondences call for social art practice. Known variously as socially engaged, participatory, collaborative or dialogic art practices, each with a nuanced definition social art involves ‘the creative orchestration of collaborative encounters and conversations well beyond the institutional confines of the gallery or museum’ (Kester, 2013, p.1). Social art practice is dependent on the involvement of others and actively invites and intentionally brings in multiple perspectives (Helguera, 2011, p.2). Through an assemblage approach, Correspondences extends this invitation to the nonhuman, including and joining with limpets, their shell remains and coastal abodes in a series of conversations, gatherings and exchanges.    




Limpeteering is the the practice of limpet-orienteering. It is an assemblage of field-based, way-finding activities where limpets act as a navigational aid and lead the way. Their zig zag tracks impel us towards archaeological, historical, ecological and scholarly places and people with limpet-related information, experience, knowhow and enthusiasm. Through the movement of ideas, bodies and material via Portable Research Cabinets, places and matter merge, coastal and inland flex together and timelines knot. Distant moments, memories and events re-materialise through the cabinets which serve as portals, sometimes flashing quickly into and out of existence, and at other times lingeringly transporting us away in slow motion.

Art-based Assemblage Production


These multiple, intricately interwoven conceptual assemblages are produced through practice and are fluid, dynamic and flexible, subject to complex experimental, material and social processes and a ‘tapping into the not-yet-known’ (Davies, 2021, p.35). 


I am looking to de-centre myself within these processes, to being open to human-nonhuman collectivities, unpicking the forces at play and watching out for new ways of understanding and knowing. Close examination of the ‘flows and conjunctions’ that emerge from human-limpet assemblages will provide an inside view, making The Human Limpet Project practices visible, hearable and tangible (Davies, 2021, p.7). 


Following Tim Ingold (2021, p.8) I approach this investigation from an ontogenic perspective, tracing how the project, as an organism is generated, its growth, formation, movement and responses throughout its lifespan.


Bennett, J. (2001) The Enchantment of Modern Life: Attachments, Crossings, and Ethics. 1st paperback edition. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press.


Bennett, J. (2010) Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. Durham, NC: Duke University Press (a John Hope Franklin Center Book).

Coole, D. and Frost, S. (eds.) (2010) New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency, and Politics. Durham NC ; London: Duke University Press Books.


Davies, B. (2020) Entanglement in the World’s Becoming and the Doing of New Materialist Inquiry. 1st edition. New York: Routledge.

Fox, N.J. and Alldred, P. (2015) ‘New materialist social inquiry: designs, methods and the research-assemblage’, International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 18(4), pp. 399–414. Available at:


Hatcher, J. and Trewhella, S. (2021) The Essential Guide to Rockpooling. Princeton University Press.


Helguera, P. (2011) Education for Socially Engaged Art: A Materials and Techniques Handbook. Illustrated edition. New York: Jorge Pinto Books Inc.


Ingold, T. (2020) Correspondences. 1st edition. Cambridge, UK ; Medford, MA: Polity.


Kester (2013) Conversation Pieces: Community and Communication in Modern Art. Revised edition. Berkeley: University of California Press.


McNiff, Shaun. "Philosophical and practical foundations of artistic inquiry." Handbook of arts-based research (2018): 22-36

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