The Wandering Snail project was exhibited at the FIELDS Exhibition and Art+Communication Festival (May 15 – August 3, 2014) at the Arsenals Exhibition Hall of the Latvian National Arts Museum (LNAM), Riga.
The Wandering Snail project takes as its base a shared interest in a creature, Radix balthica, the wandering snail. Widespread throughout North Western Europe, it was first identified as a type by Linnaeus, who collected it on the Swedish island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea. Linnaeus first named it Helix balthica, but it has undergone several re-classifications since. It inhabits a wide diversity of habitat types, including temporary ponds and ditches and brackish waters, where sea and fresh waters collide, crossover and mingle. No-one quite knows how this creature disperses. It has been surmised it travels on the feet of birds, an involuntary arriviste, a directionless nomad, with a tolerance for temporary dryness. Resilient and adaptive, it becomes common, overlooked and local.
The installation is an improvised rigging of laboratory vessels and technology developed with support from laboratory technicians skilled in researching and constructing various laboratory setups. The application of data (lab and field) has been developed through the work – investigating the control of lighting, sonification and physical vibration of elements in the installation. One aspect of the data explored is the connection of the name “Radix balthica”, the snail, and Radix Sort a computer science based sorting algorithm. We are interested in the interplay between a snail (a messy biological entity under scientific observation and the subject of experimentation) and an algorithm (dating back to 1887 and the development of tabulating machines) that sorts and orders data sets.
Radix balthica, the wandering snail, is found throughout NW Europe. Because of its tolerance for extreme and varied environmental conditions this species is an excellent model for determining the traits which species might possess that could be beneficial for survival under altered environmental conditions, such as climate warming and increased saline intrusion into freshwaters.
Since Linnaeus’s original naming, Radix balthica has had several different names. This frequent renaming is almost certainly fuelled by the high degree of variation in its shell form and mantle coloration, often within the same habitat, which has led to problems in designating it as a single species.
The historical timeline of the naming of Radix balthica:
Helix balthica LINNAEUS (1758); Limnaeus pereger STEIN (1850); Limnaea peregra KRELINGER (1870); Limnaea limosa KREGLINGER (1870); Limnaea ovata CLESSIN (1876); Limnaea pereger KENNARD & WOODWARD (1926); Radix ovata GEYER (1927); Radix pereger SCHLESCH & KRAUSP (1943); Radix limosa C.R. BOETTGER (1944); Lymnaea pereger MANDAHL-BARTH (1949); Lymnaea ovata ADAM (1960); Lymnaea balthica f. ovate S.H. JAECKEL (1961); Radix peregra ZILCH (1962); Lymnaea peregra LOŽEK (1964); Radix balthica (LINNAEUS, 1758).
In his travel journal Linnaeus makes the following statement about the site where he first described Radix balthica:
“Hoburg is one of the most remarkable things that Nature has made on all Gotland and is very high, like a most beautiful castle, perpendicular on all sides, except that it is in some places narrower at the base than at the top…Marble rocks, so big that 20 pairs of oxen would not have been able to move them, lay thrown upon the shore at the root of Hoburgen, on the west side; they consisted of white and reddish grains, of the same kind as on the Karlsö islands and such as I had not seen on the island…Cochlea testa pellucida, anfractibus quatuor, rictu ovatu amplo, superficie rugis elevates [Helix balthica L.] was also lying in the water by the shore; the animal was black and had two antennae looking like flat pointed ears”.
The snail has since been collected and described from a range of habitats from brackish waters like the Baltic Sea to temporary ponds and rivers such as the Rivers Dart and Tamar near where the radix research collective is based in South West England. It is rumoured to travel on the feet of ducks. The snails found in the gallery have been brought by aeroplane from England and discovered in the Gulf of Riga. Over the next two months we will monitor their response to gallery conditions, light, salinity and atmosphere. How might the audience’s gaze affect the wandering snail?
See a review of Wandering Snail here.