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The Brooklyn artist who wants you to care about snails

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The David Colosi exhibition Escargotolia at the Open Source gallery (photo Maya Pontone/Hyperallergic)

This Brooklyn artist is obsessed with snails and wants you to be too.

In David Colosi’s exhibition Escargotolia at the Open Source Gallery in South Slope there is much more than meets the eye, in this case a colossal abstract snail sculpture constructed from scrap fabric and a foam core, visible to passers-by in the street during the opening hours of the gallery.

A play on the term “pareidolia” – a psychological phenomenon that leads us to identify recognizable images in random patterns – Escargotolia is a playful and delightfully absurd exploration of malacology, delving into the complex dynamics that exist between human society and snail society. In a world where humans exploit snails as extractable resources, Colosi asks us to consider their individualism.

To be clear: this project is in regards to snails without snails. It combines sculpture with history and fiction with fact to create an immersive and informative experience that aims to bring viewers to see snails in places they don’t.

“I stage a perception game where I ask people to see fabric snails,” Colosi said. Hyperallergic. “I hope that I will manage to cross this border between fact and fiction.”

Colosi constructed the massive sculpture out of fabric and foam core.

In keeping with his concept of “three-dimensional literature”, Colosi combines sculpture work with readings of his novel. A confluence of snails (2023), which consists of six stories centered on a society that uses snail DNA to fight homelessness. The text merges recent research with fictional scenarios that demonstrate the human tendency to use snails for our own purposes, whether scientific, culinary, medical or cosmetic, rather than allowing them to exist peacefully on their own.

“As human beings, we constantly impose ourselves on snails, seeing ourselves where we are not. In this exhibition, I staged a perception where we can see snails where they are not “, explains Colosi in his description of Escargotolia.

Alongside the sculpting at Open Source, Colosi also hosted an Earth Day Snail Safari led by local naturalists to connect people with their snail neighbors, and later this month there will be a Zoom chat with slug specialists Dr. Norine W. Yeung and Dr. Menno Schilthuizen.

“When you start putting two of these experiences together – or three or four – then you really see what Escargotolia is on point,” Colosi said.

“This is how I originally conceived of ‘three-dimensional literature’ as an installation combined with a story, where each can be experienced in isolation, but in combination the experience multiplies and hovers in a space between words and objects” he explained.

David Colosi’s installation at Council St. Gallery in Los Angeles last fall (photo courtesy of Council St. Gallery)

Since developing his obsession with snails in November 2018, Colosi has been debuting Escargotolia last fall at the Council St. Gallery in Los Angeles, where he build over 200 snails – the smallest measuring a millimeter, the largest almost a foot tall – from various knots of fabric and scattered them on a floor. On the gallery’s 16-foot walls, he used mudslides to suggest the appearance of tracks or snail trails.

For Open Source, Colosi transformed the tiny into the massive, and reversed the scale of Escargotolia to build “the big snail in the room”. Passing the gallery – a renovated double-door carriage shed on 17th Street, a few blocks from Brooklyn’s iconic Greenwood Cemetery – the sculpture takes up most of the space, leaving barely room for spectators to enter. But, as Colosi tells Hyperallergicthis lack of respite is deliberate: Inspired by Land Art installations and contemporary sculptor Charles Simonds, Colosi wanted to “force people out of the space of art and into the world”.

“That’s where they’ll find snails and also what my ‘art’ represents,” he said.

In addition to Charles Simonds, Colosi cited several literary inspirations behind Escargotoliaincluding that of George Orwell farm animalby Megan Milks Slugas well as two horror stories by novelist and snail enthusiast Patricia Highsmith (Colosi noted that the author allegedly smuggled them into France by hiding them under her breasts when moving from England, and also has them brought like her plus to social gatherings, storing them in her purse with a head of lettuce).

“It’s not just about visiting the gallery space and you’re done,” he said. “I try to pack more into art than this pass-through experience.”

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