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Welcome to
The Limpetarium

Art-based research investigating the entangled relationship between humans, limpets and the environment over time













The story of limpets, those conical sea-snails frequently found gripping tightly to the rocky shorelines of the British Isles may seem inconsequential in the grand scheme of things but that is not the case. If given careful, prolonged attention, room to express themselves and an engaged, receptive audience they reveal a richly entangled human-nonhuman story which unfolds over many thousands of years, a story that is of interest to more people than you might think.

Brief project summary

Hi, I am Helen Garbett a postgraduate research student based at the Centre for Island Creativity, Shetland, University of the Highlands and Islands, where I am studying for a PhD in Creative Practice.


I live and have my art studio in Stourbridge, a small town on the southern edge of the Black Country in the West Midlands of England.


My art-based research, underpinned by new materialist thinking and practice is investigating the complex relationship between humans, limpets and the environment over time. I am collecting and bringing together all sorts of limpet shells, facts, histories and stories, working with them to create a contemporary, socially engaged wunderkammer (wonder-room) or, as I like to call it, The Limpetarium.


The Limpetarium is a material manifestation of the research, a hybrid exhibition-art studio space, which serves as a collection, work of art, social place, private workplace and site of creative inquiry. 













Purpose and background to the research

In 2018 I visited Skaill Farm archaeological dig on the West coast of Rousay, Orkney. An archaeologist working on site gave me a handful of ancient limpet shells that had been unearthed from viking midden (rubbish mound) as a souvenir. This small act of generocity started my long-term interest in limpets; I investigated their shape and form through drawing, painting and print making, a process of familiarisation, of coming-to-know and becoming-acquainted-with... Further research via the internet and reading revealed a surprising amount of limpet related information and many potential lines of art-based inquiry. I began to wonder what others might know about limpets and our relationship with them through history, so I decided to invite a wide range of people to participate in my limpet research.


If you would like to get involved you can find out more here.

My research question

How can the creation of a contemporary, socially engaged wunderkammer or Limpetarium illuminate the significance of relationship between humans, limpets and the environment over time?


How am I working? 

My work is interdisciplinary, which means I do not have one main or dominant field of practice, instead I bring together and interconnect various artistic practices including drawing, painting, textiles, collection, assemblage, installation, video and participatory activities such as letter writing, social gatherings and conversation.

My practice as a visual, socially engaged artist habitually involves collecting. No matter what the project's theme, the research almost always starts with the amassment of related objects and books. This process of gathering centres my mind on the subject in hand, brings into focus the infinite variety within one (life)form and provides art making material.

Through a process of limpeteering, I am finding and visiting sites of limpet interest, including for example beaches, archaeological digs, natural history museums, universities, archives and shell grottos, meeting up and corresponding with people to collect all sorts of shells, facts, histories and stories from the earliest times through to the modern day.


I am interested in anything which helps tell the story of human-limpet-environment connections and their importance in the world, including my own lived experience.

Research supervisors 

Professor Roxane Permar from The Centre for Island Creativity, UHI Shetland is the Director of Studies for my PhD. Dr Antonia Thomas from the Archaeology Institute, UHI Orkney is my second supervisor.

If you would like to know more about the academic research stuff             please look here



All images are ©Helen Garbett unless otherwise stated. 

The Human Limpet Project research map in development... no beginning, no end, intersectional boundaries, process driven drift whilst clinging on to the research question... 
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