Dancing snails: An unusually slimy installation in London

French vegetarian art anarchists Élizabeth Saint-Jalmes and Cyril Leclerc have created a gastropod masterpiece, but what does it mean?

James Sproston
30th April 2018
The creatures displayed a remarkable amount of light

Earlier this month, 400 people shelled out just £4.50 to watch 176 illuminated snails take centre-stage at Kings Place as a part of a festival of sound art in King’s Cross.

Though this might sound like a Britain’s Got Talent act, this performance has a far different vibe. Creators Élizabeth Saint-Jalmes and Cyril Leclerc are “French vegetarian art anarchists”, and are as anti-establishment as it comes.

Saint-Jalmes has been on the art scene since 2000, embracing chaos in her work to illustrate the uncertainty of the process of transformation, whilst Leclerc is an artist that not only embraces light, but harnesses it in all aspect of his work. This collaboration is a marriage of their ideas, and both have been incorporating snails into their art for years.

Their snails on this occasion are from the gros-gris family, the species considered a culinary delicacy, but Saint-Jalmes and Leclerc are keen to demonstrate that these ‘fat greys’ have more to offer than being the centre-piece of a gourmet dish at a Michelin-star restaurant.

Since the creators insist on the use of phones being prohibited for the duration of the performance, the best taste of the ‘Slow Pixel’ we can get is from Leclerc’s Vimeo page. You’d be excused for thinking that the link was a still image, but only the occasional camera-angle change reveal that it’s a four-minute video.

It’s this pace that the artists want to convey, with a snail’s tarrying nature presenting a stark contrast to the hectic human lifestyle. Saint-Jalems claims that the performance harks back to the childhood pastime of watching insects for hours, something that Leclerc claims invokes a ‘Proustian rush’, an involuntary revisiting of a past memory.

Though ‘Slow Pixel’ may touch on the spiritual, the motivation is predominantly political. This support for animal rights comes at a time when food movements are being scutinised in France. Last year, the European Court of Justice ruled that dairy terms could not be used to describe plant-based foods, and only last week the French Parliament passed a regulation that meant that more meat-related terms (including sausage, steak and fillet) could not be used to describe products that aren’t fully or partly made up of meat.

While some non-meat eaters have welcomed the change, the regulation was proposed by Jean Baptiste Moreau, a farmer MP who seems personal affronted that vegetable-based products dare refer to themselves using meaty names, tweeting: “It is important to combat false claims. Our products must be designated correctly: the terms of #cheese or #steak will be reserved for products of animal origin!”

Although the war food movement debate will continue, this immersive sensorial experiment is for a limited time only. Regardless of what some may say about modern art, ‘Slow Pixel’ is a truly unique performance. It has layers that stretch far beyond the space that it takes place, but within it the panoramic display of beauty and tranquillity is more than enough to overcome the novelty of dancing snails.

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