painted snails


Ink and enamel paint on live snails, 2009 – 2010

An autobiographical work, Migration/Mitigation explores the idea that by leaving a place or running away from something, you lessen the danger you were in and its effects on you.

Paralleled are the history of my grandparents arriving as refugees fleeing Nazi Germany, and my mother and I fleeing a violent and abusive household when I was a child. I returned to the house I grew up in, photographed all the rooms and then recreated them as they were when I lived there on the backs of living snails*. Snail shells contain a snail’s entire life history – the smallest, tightest spiral at the centre of the shell is actually the tiny shell it hatched with – year by year it adds to the shell, spiralling around itself as it grows. However much you run, you carry your history with you.

Having drawn on the snails, I then exhibited them in large perspex vitrines where they drew their own silvery trails, creating their own lines and paths. The shell keeps the snail safe, but also acts as a barrier, keeping it separated from the world, limiting its movement. The dialogue between my lines and the snails’ lines continues throughout the exhibition.

*The snails were ordered from a snail farm that breeds them for restaurant use. Their shells are non-porous, and a very stable non-toxic enamel paint was used to ensure the snails did not ingest any of the paint after initial tests showed no adverse effects. After the exhibition, the snails lived out their natural life spans, and the shells were collected and cleaned once they had died.