Paul Geelen (NL)

Paul Geelen - Untitled (Ghostwriter) (2016/2017)
Disruption – Remapping Nature (2017)
Photography Paul Geelen

Paul Geelen - Untitled (Ghostwriter) (2016 / 2017)

The practice of Paul Geelen (b. Weert, 1983, lives and works in Amsterdam) consists of an investigative, process-oriented way of working, which often results in sculptural installations. Almost like a chemist, he carries out pseudoscientific experiments. This is not to find proof, as a scientist would, but instead motivated by his curiosity about the unpredictability of what happens when you combine elements from nature and the artificial world.

Geelen’s interest in the snail began with his vegetable garden. He heard copper was supposed to be good for keeping the unwelcome creatures away. So he put copper plates among his vegetables and noticed that the snails would crawl onto them but then quickly leave, producing large quantities of slime, which caused the copper to oxidise. Geelen subsequently exhibited the permanent tracks that the snails had made on the plates.

The artist revisited his interest in the snail on a trip to Chile, where snail slime is used in skin rejuvenation creams. A large number of myths and fairy tales make it clear that, since time immemorial, the secret of eternal youth has been sought in far-off lands and magical potions. In Chile, the answer came in the form of a snail. The idea is that the slime helps to repair the snail’s shell and so it will therefore also rejuvenate the human complexion. Geelen now keeps thousands of snails in his studio and uses them to brew concoctions. Elixirs of life.

Geelen also became fascinated by the sounds that snails produce. Untitled (Ghostwriter) (2016-2017) is an audio work consisting of extremely amplified sounds made by moving snails. The recordings were made in an insulated room with special walls, floors and ceilings designed to absorb as much sound as possible. These noises were then transformed into a composition by a sound designer.

The work played with its surroundings and also with the expectations and attentiveness of visitors to the exhibition. The snail sounds were accompanied by ambient noises, such as wind and animals in the park, with the speakers attached to trees along a path. Visitors entered a sound zone, where the volume gradually increased, providing an experience that was both intense and alienating. At the same time, we once again became aware of our mortality.