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  • Writer's pictureSofia Greaves

Diary, week with a snail

Updated: May 16, 2023

In Galicia it rained for approximately 21 days without stopping even during the night. I am painting a snail.

The snail was brought to me by my ex landlord José in a plastic bottle from his garden and this is a diary of our week together.

Snails for Degrowth

Snail will be on the cover of the book, Critiques of Growth. This is because philosopher Ivan Illich thought of snails as the perfect argument that long term growth will eventually have damages which outweigh its benefits.

A snail, after adding a number of widening rings to the delicate structure of its shell, suddenly brings its accustomed building activities to a stop. A single additional ring would increase the size of the shell sixteen times. Instead of contributing to the welfare of the snail, it would burden the creature with such an excess of weight that any increase in its productivity would henceforth be literally outweighed by the task of coping with the difficulties created by enlarging the shell beyond the limits set by its purpose. At that point, the problems of overgrowth begin to multiply geometrically, while the snail’s biological capacity can at best be extended arithmetically. Gender, 1982.

Snails: don't keep growing, you will become inefficient and harm yourself.


Monday, day 1, I think in utilitarian terms about the snail and what it could give me. I think about making it aesthetic, and how to advertise our book.

- By Monday evening I found myself worrying about the snail.

- I checked on it twice in the night

- I looked up whether snails could get lonely.

- I wondered about the correct pronouns for the snail.


- Extremely pleased

- Learn that snail is not woman or man, but both.

- They came out straight away in the morning; frenzied painting, photoshoot.

- I told all my friends about the snail and how fast it was

- I learn that snails poo

- Began to philosophically reflect upon snails and their lives.

- Listened to podcast with conservationist Brian Czech about agricultural surplus. The economy is an ecosystem structured like a triangle into 'trophic' levels. Everything begins at the base with plants. Then snails. Then humans. Anything at the top depends upon energy moving upwards from plants; the flow of energy and nutrition from one layer to the next is called the “Trophic process”, from ancient Greek for 'nourishment'.

Humans extract to make plants into food with big machines so they can make smaller and invisible machines to make big money.

For growing bigger money, generating economic growth, they require a 'surplus of labour' mobilised to make more plants via more agriculture. This harms snails, amongst others, because the extraction required to generate "economic growth increases resource use and trade...which in turn impact biodiversity via climate change, land-use change (pesticide, fertilizer, habitat destruction), and invasive species".

I put a triangle at the middle of the painting and invert it. I decide upon 3 snails. Three Fates, one of whom in Greek mythology is called Atropos and chose how mortals would die.

I start googling jelly fish swarms caused by rising sea temperatures and find an artist collective launching jellyfish into space.

Not all artists will support post growth.

"A celebration of the dawn of commercial space travel." "The depths of the ocean reveal an endless frontier of earth’s biology, where many of the inhabitants create and use light in beautiful, often mesmerizing ways, shares the international artist collective." The world's ecosystem is not an endless frontier.


A feature is published in which I look 10 years old and like I am apologising for colonialism.

I reflect upon 'why' I am painting.

Reflection 1. Is art a means to positively cultivate a good relationship with food?

There are many who frame 'art' as a practice which can help us to transform our behaviours and relationships - to food for example. The argument being that art is not just painting, sculpture, etc, or objects to be sold. Art is also how we live: it "is situated in everyday practices and cultures". Doing 'art' can change social and economic relationships.

Can anything be art then. How you produce food - 'socially applied art'? Yes, because cooking has the potential to be many things at once. Useful, creates a culture, a community, relationships, social interdependence, education, memories, conviviality, democratic decision making, a collective mode of production and consumption, experimentation with economic relationships outside the market.

An increasing number of artists make economics not just their subject matter but their practice. Just as some artists or art groups make artistic objects, other artists directly intervene in the social and economic realms, setting up enterprises or establishing economic experiments. Böhm and Szreder, 2020, 530-1.

One example of this is Britto Arts Trust @ documenta fest where Léon and I ate really good curry.

Britto Arts Trust invites food lovers to join their artistic food cooking and sharing project at PAKGHOR–the social kitchen, wishing to gather around a table full of stories, memories, and companionship. During 100 days of documenta fifteen, the collective will build an outdoor common area, a kitchen as an alternative living room in the middle of a newly created PALAN, a garden next to the documenta Halle, sharing stories and moments, while serving food and tea prepared from the recipes of various nationalities residing in Kassel. Gathering around Britto’s Pakghor, the stories of residents come alive via food, conversations, performances, poems, music and laughter. Each session will be documented, and the recipes will be collected to publish an e-book.
Léon @ documenta

Britto and its art of food is an example of the "economy brought back into realm of everyday culture and art". It is a 'bottom-up approach' based in the idea that 'the way we organise relationships will either set up a system that we want to live in or reproduce the economy that exploits many for the benefit of a few." Böhm and Szreder, 2020, 530; 533.

Such initiatives are about changing power structures, including those of the art world, where different logics generally apply.

The art world – made up of curators, artists, organizers and collectors – is problematic insofar as it is subject to power structures that determine how the art is made. That’s why we’re trying to forge new relationships. It isn’t something you can do overnight. ruangrupa

Reflection 2. Am I doing socially applied art?

Me: MA from Sotheby's Institute. Sotheby's auction house is a lynchpin of the art market: one of the 'big three' in London and a multinational corporation which tags itself as 'The world's premier destination for art and luxury'. Modern and Contemporary Art totalled 40% of the record $7.4bn sales total last year.

Sotheby's had a module 'Navigating the Art World', meaning 'the market'. Here we practiced setting up a 'House Sale', first giving the work an attribution, origin, contents, period, provenance and eg. whether the brush strokes were 'characteristic (desirable)' or not. We assessed supply and demand, wrote up a catalogue entry and assigned a value. I loved it. Termed connoisseurship, it combined betting with exercising expertise.

MA cost £26,000. I did not pay because my essay won the scholarship, likely because I had an excellent private education and parents who supported this interest for decades financially, during eg. an unpaid internship at Contemporary 'alpha' gallery White Cube in London, where I worked in the Digital Archive cataloguing material on Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, Georg Baselitz, etc. I got this internship because I babysat for a woman who sang with my mother and worked at White Cube.

Also me:

In 2013 Christian Ellinas and I set up an art collective to provide a space for students to create. We raised funds, gutted and rehabilitated an empty building, and Christian ran the space for two years, after which it became a 'project based' thing. Cooper Studios was an NFP.

Cooper Studios, 2013 - 2015
Art classes we ran off the top of a shipping container, Shambala Festival 2015. Inside container open slate for talks & rolling Djs. We dug holes for the supporting structure with spoons.

I give the money I make from art to charities for people with eating disorders, give paintings away to friends, or do the work for free.

Reflection. Am I a socially engaged artist.

Conclusion. I am not doing socially applied art. I am doing volunteering, unpaid labour, and I like giving presents.


- The snail has moved during the night. Our work schedules are complementary.

- I come across 'The Bestiary of the Anthropocene' published by art collective & research group DISNOVATION. It is 'an atlas of hybrid creatures and phenomena between 'nature' and 'culture' that mixes biological, mineral, technological, petrochemical… a panorama of specimens...recognised no longer as isolated aberrations within our environments, but as that which defines our contemporary condition.'

The book records an existing artificial hybridity in the natural world and ultimately in our food chain. I learnt about hermit crabs.

Not used to plastic, hermit crabs can confuse the debris—bottle caps, straws, cups, boxes—washed up on beaches and seashores with sea shells and crawl into it, causing them to frequently get stuck and starve to death. This dramatic situation is worsened by the fact that when one crab dies, it emits a signal alerting others there is a new shell available for them. This chain reaction leads scores of crabs to come scurrying across the island and fall into the plastic trap, killing thousands of them in recent years. BOA, 69.

Cleaned box.

Thought about dignity

Changed snail leaves, from €12 veg box

Little antennae came out

I assigned them a sound track.


Podcast on agricultural revolution.

Is there such a thing as sustainable agriculture? Quick answer, yes.

"Agriculture is the overwhelming method by which humans are interacting with non human nature and important therefore from an ecological sustainability perspective. That interaction is heavily mediated by farmers, peasants, people involved in agriculture."

We want: a sustainable interaction between humans and environment.

We want: to meet basic human needs, which can be done by granting land to the unemployed and encouraging sustainable farming methods - agro-ecology.

Capitalist modes of food production

Maximise extraction via competitive intensive farming, genetic engineering GMO, chemical products.

Agro-ecology: not that.

- "A science, a set of practices and a social movement".

- Change attitudes to food and production.

- 13 principles. Eg. co-operation not competition, to "Enhance co-creation and horizontal sharing of knowledge including local and scientific innovation, especially through farmer-to-farmer exchange."

Wall doodle, ruangrupa @ documenta fest

Agroecology helps snails & humans. "You get get better biodiversity outcomes, better soil health, increased earth worms, [snails], soil carbon and organic matter, decreased erosion, crops which are more resilient and which bounce back quicker, less vulnerable to mud slides, blights and pests."

Agroecology gives 'increased revenues on a micro-economic level. It is extremely well established that small scale farming is massively more productive per unit of land than large farming".

- This is a trophic win win.

But "Agro-ecology is absent from discussions happening in the global north, which set the pace and agenda of the green transition" - [the social change strategy to turn the unsustainable global situation into a new sustainable paradigm that drives development and peace, aiming to improve the living conditions of all]. "It has been taken off the table".

Roman senators murdered the Gracchi for their proposed land reforms, so this makes sense to me.

Insert: recently speakers at the Beyond Growth Conference, European Parliament, raised how food companies prevent agroecology from entering the equation by controlling the market.

This politics of food production is shown quite literally by work displayed by Britto Arts Trust @ Documenta, such as the "fishbombs", a reality much like the hybrid hermit crabs presented by DISNOVATION.

Bengali Britto Arts Trust Collective commenting on attitudes to food @ documenta

Artificial 'hybrid' foodstuffs in Britto installation.

Reflection 3. Are snails labouring for the green transition?

Snails are termed 'a live crop'. They can be grown and harvested for eating or face cream. "Heliciculture is the process of farming or raising edible land snails for human consumption."

Snails are considered 'sustainable' because they "don't make noise" and '"their waste does not give offensive polluting odour". Confirm but have further questions.

Forest snail, swamp snail, and 'city girl'.

My snail is a 'city girl'.

i feel protective.

'Farmers have increased their output to accommodate both the new skincare market and robust demand from the culinary industry. "In the last 10 months alone, we’ve seen a 46 percent increase in snail slime, due to demand from the cosmetics industry,”'. President of Italy’s National Heliciculture Association.

A French farmer has developed a technology to extract 15 tons of snail slime per year. This is 'helix slime innovation'. Snails are labouring under capitalist conditions of food production.

Bought cadmium red, and googled importance of snails to the agricultural revolution.

Such farming is thought to have caused 'the deadly snail outbreak in Columbia'. Those snails produced 200-300 eggs per month. It took 9 years to contain the revolution.

Report: "Snails are master-escapists".

Report: "A good snailery must be escape proof. The containment units must be impenetrable".

Reflection. Are snails labouring for the green transition?

Snail outbreaks - rebellions against having slime extracted

Snails - producing crops.

Conclusion. Snails peasants in the agricultural revolution.

Saturday. Snail was so intent on eating HE FELL OFF THE BOX

Sunday, AJ sends pictures of my 'National Science Test' from 2001 in which I score 2/10 when identifying foods which make you overweight.

Thought about how these kinds of science assessments might shape your attitudes to food.

Outraged. The question totally ignored question of quantity.

Labels. Are they useful?


The snail is a symbol of Degrowth. Can painting a snail be socially applied art which cultivates a better relationship to food? Painting the snail: very reflective process. I have learnt a lot about our attitudes to subjects of eating, producing, caring, companionship, cooking, ageing, attachment, attitudes to the natural world, managing its outputs, risks, 'accidents', relationship to energy, routine, negotiation of difference, dispositions. Snails occupy a place at the nexus of many practices and cultures. But they don't have a literal voice in these issues or the future. Farmers, their guardians in many ways, also face difficulties if they seek change. Farmers are also at risk of losing their livelihoods if they do not comply with the system. Labels - salt, sugar, good for ensuring standards. Good for healthy relationships to food? More complex.

We need to transform our relationships to food production and this will inevitably affect our cultures of food from dairy farming to sugar which are entangled with national, local and individual identities. We need policies to support agro-ecology which emphasize cooperation and knowledge sharing as routes to stability. You cannot leave these issues for 'the market' to solve.

I have painted a snail cosmology.

Critiques of Growth, oil on canvas, 50 x 60 cm. 2023.


- Podcast with Brian Czech on trophic levels and economic growth

- Podcast on agricultural revolution - the Green Transition needs land

- DISNOVATION have some nice graphics explaining postgrowth.

DISNOVATION also have game prototypes: a strategical card game, a group questionnaire, and a board game. "designed to be tools for transmission and collective discussion, inviting people to gain new perspective on the doctrines of economic growth in order to better understand how we might have to transform how we live, we found it is important to highlight the material conditions which undergird contemporary lifestyles." Here

Other podcasts on my research:

- Art and post-growth planning: 'Becoming a Postgrowth Planner #16 with Dr. Sofia Greaves'

- Interview on Postgrowth Urban Planning, Urbanistica, collab. Placemaking Europe.

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