This Brooklyn artist is obsessed with snails, and wants you to be, too.
In David Colosi’s exhibition Snaileidolia at Open Source Gallery in South Slope, there’s a lot more than what meets the eye, which in this case is a colossal abstract snail sculpture built out of fabric scraps, visible to passersby on the street during the gallery’s opening hours.
A play on the term “pareidolia” — a psychological phenomenon that causes us to identify recognizable images in random patterns — Snaileidolia is a playful and delightfully absurd exploration into 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 about snails without snails. It combines sculpture with story and fiction with fact to create an immersive, informative experience that aims to cause viewers to see snails in places where they are not.
“I’m staging a play of perceptions where I’m asking people to see snails in fabric,” Colosi told Hyperallergic. “I hope I succeed in riding that line between fact and fiction.”
In line with his concept of “three-dimensional literature,” Colosi pairs the sculpture work with readings from his novel A Confluence of Snails (2023), which consists of six stories centered around a society that uses snail DNA to address homelessness. The text merges recent research with fictional scenarios that demonstrate the human inclination to use snails for our own needs, whether scientific, culinary, medical, or cosmetic, rather than allow them to exist peacefully on their own.
“As humans we constantly impose ourselves on snails, seeing ourselves where we are not. In this exhibition I have staged a perception where we may see snails where they are not,” Colosi explains in his description of Snaileidolia.
Alongside the sculpture at Open Source, Colosi also organized 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 discussion 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 Snaileidolia is about,” Colosi said.
“That’s the way I originally conceived of ‘three-dimensional literature:’ as an installation combined with a story, where each could be experienced in isolation, but in combination, the experience multiplies and hovers in a space between the words and objects,” he explained.
Since developing his obsession with snails in November 2018, Colosi debuted Snaileidolia last fall at Council St. Gallery in Los Angeles, where he constructed over 200 snails — the smallest measuring one millimeter, the largest nearly a foot tall — out of various fabric knots and scattered them across a floor. On the gallery’s 16-foot walls, he used slime pours to suggest the appearance of snail tracks or trails.
For Open Source, Colosi transformed the minuscule to the massive, and inverted the scale of Snaileidolia to build “the large snail in the room.” When walking past the gallery — a double-doored renovated carriage house on 17th Street, just a few blocks from Brooklyn’s iconic Greenwood Cemetery — the sculpture consumes most of the space, barely leaving room for viewers to step inside. But, as Colosi tells Hyperallergic, this lack of breathing room is deliberate: Inspired by Land Art installations and contemporary sculptor Charles Simonds, Colosi wanted “to force people out of the art space and into the world.”
“That’s where they will find snails and also what my ‘art’ is about,” he said.
In addition to Charles Simonds, Colosi cited several literary inspirations behind Snaileidolia, including George Orwell’s Animal Farm, Megan Milks’s Slug, as well as two horror stories by novelist and avid snail enthusiast Patricia Highsmith (Colosi noted the author reportedly smuggled them into France by concealing them under her breasts during her move from England, and also brought them as her plus-ones to social gatherings, storing them in her handbag with a head of lettuce).
“It’s not a case of just visiting the gallery space and you’re done,” he said. “I try to pack more into art than that pass-through experience.”