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Crafts students experience life at the Eden Project

Crafts students experience life at the Eden Project

Students from Arts University Plymouth’s BA (Hons) Crafts & Material Practices degree have spent a week working at the Eden Project, Cornwall’s cultural venue and home to the world’s largest indoor rainforest. Sirun Chiarini and Caroline Barr spent a week undertaking gallery maintenance and invigilating within the attraction’s Core Gallery exhibition hall, which included helping to restore the exhibition display and plinths for artworks by internationally-acclaimed artists, including Ai Weiwei.

Situated in a reclaimed china clay quarry outside of St Austell, Cornwall, the Eden Project is an educational charity, social enterprise and visitor attraction. The Eden Project’s greenhouse-like biomes are home to over 1000 different species of plants and since its opening in 2001, has welcomed over 22 million visitors. The Core, Eden Project’s educational centre, features classroom and workshop spaces, a café and an exhibition hall where students Sirun and Caroline were based. The placement was part of Arts University Plymouth’s Knowledge Exchange work funded by Research England and the students were able to contribute their knowledge and expertise of curatorial work, and in the process further develop their own curatorial skills, while also contributing their artistic practice to develop educational materials that are used by the Eden Project on a regular basis.


Sirun cleaning display shelves

Sirun and Caroline applied for a placement at the Eden Project after hearing about the opportunity from their subject leader, Gayle Matthias. Sirun said,

“There was originally only one spot available but we both applied and got through. We didn’t have long to apply, and it was a hectic time in our busy schedule, but I’m so glad we went for it.”

Teaching, research, and Knowledge Exchange at Arts University Plymouth has a strong focus on sustainability and a commitment to impactful social justice and ecological change through the people who work and study there. For BA (Hons) Craft & Material Practices students, this made the opportunity to work within the Eden Project a perfect environment to consider sustainability and ways to balance their creative practices with the natural world.

Caroline, aged 22, said, “The role at the Eden Project required lots of problem solving. We started with gallery maintenance, which we’d done before a little through our course, but never in a professional setting. The team were preparing for half term, so we were asked to repair plinths, paint walls and maintain and clean the display shelves that were like cabinets of curiosities on display. During half term, there were doodling workshops being hosted for children, based on the popular TV and book series, Tom Gates, which we helped set up. The style of the books are bright and colourful so we were surrounded by giant food items like a slice of cake with a side of peas. It was bizarre but great fun.” 

Moving from London to study at Arts University Plymouth, Sirun, aged 27, continued,

“It was all quite varied. The first two days we were there, Eden was actually closed to the public, so that was a unique experience. We spent our lunch breaks in the Mediterranean biome, which was so lovely. We spent those days working on general gallery maintenance. We were able to draw on our knowledge from our crafts background, making sure everything was presentable and neat.”

“Swedish artist Ingela Ihrman was also there for the week, installing their piece “First Came the Landscape”, as part of the exhibition ‘Super Natural’, which is essentially a wooden skeleton made from a tree that was blown down in a storm that has been chopped into pieces and assembled onto the earth. It was a very physical piece of work to install, we were there with shovels and up to our elbows in dirt and soil. We were dressed for invigilating as well!”

Caroline said, “I was in lilac cords and Air Force One’s, which as a daughter of a farmer, was so stupid! I was definitely inappropriately dressed. It was a fantastic experience though, totally in the middle of it. I even met a little newt in the soil.”

“It was a really varied, unique experience. The Eden Project is a household name, so it felt like a once in a lifetime opportunity. We ended up doing a presentation about the gallery on the final day, as we’d spent time in the gallery surrounded by the work and were asked to evaluate it. We evaluated the position of the pieces in the gallery and their effect. I’d never thought about the emphasis of position in galleries, I’d always been quite carefree before, but the exhibition spaces at Eden are quite specific. Where the work is positioned in the room can affect the message of the work. It was so interesting to see how the work had been curated, seeing it from the artist’s point of view.”

Sirun and Caroline have been involved in eco-conscious projects since their first year, having created a willow pod structure for Poole Farm, based in Derriford Community Park, working in partnership with the Green Minds project. 

Caroline and Sirun both chose to study the Craft & Material Practices degree due to the variety of specialisms available to study on the course. Caroline said, “I knew I needed to see the University in person, and the facilities were just unbeatable. That was when I realised how much the course had to offer. I’m not very good at picking one thing to specialise in, so I wanted to learn as much as possible and give everything a go.”

Sirun said, “There’s really not many institutions where you can collaborate with so many different departments and it’s something I really value. I would say I’m a bit of a generalist as well, but I worked in ceramics for a personal project with a friend, selling tableware at Christmas markets. It was something to help boost my skills and experience running a project from designing and making to selling and marketing. I also really enjoy collecting my own materials and working with natural fibres and dyes. I definitely plan to draw a lot more from nature and develop work with the community in mind and doing things collaboratively. Those are the ideas that stay with me the most.”


The newt discovered by Caroline

Gayle Matthias, Senior Lecturer and Subject Leader for BA (Hons) Craft & Material Practices said, “On several occasions in the past, as a graduate prize, Eden Project has selected a graduate for work experience. This stopped during the pandemic, so I was really pleased that we were able to resume this activity through the Knowledge Exchange programme and provide this excellent opportunity for Caroline and Sirun.

Students frequently collaborate with other students from across the creative community at Arts University Plymouth. The arts university’s dynamic, cross-disciplinary community offers a rich environment of thinking and making in a range of disciplines, with plenty of opportunities to work alongside other students. To find out what it’s like to be involved in a creative community, visit or attend the next on campus Open Day on Saturday 11 March 2023.

This was an Arts University Plymouth Knowledge Exchange placement supported by Research England’s Knowledge Exchange Funding for Smaller Providers.

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