It may sound like a April Fool’s Day wind-up, but young Dutch designer, Lieske Schreuder, feeds coloured paper to snails and then collects their vibrant-hued poo to make floor tiles.
Having noticed that snails in her garden seemed to enjoy eating paper and cardboard, Schreuder purchased hundreds of them from a snail farm and built a laboratory to test what would happen if they consumed coloured paper.
“The result was that snails do not only eat coloured paper, but also defecate in colour,” explains Schreuder. “So blue paper means blue excrement. Snails cannot take the paper’s colour pigment into their bodies and that is the reason the excrement is coloured. So, snails recycle coloured paper. This is what I researched in my laboratory: the structure, thickness, speed of eating, speed of defecating, etc.
Her laboratory has a series of compartments where the snails have access to sheets of coloured paper, which has a similar cellular structure to the plant matter they typically eat.
Schreuder then gathers the excrement, which has a malleable texture, and feeds it into a portable machine she designed to grind, mix and press it into tiles, with a textured surface that retains the colour of the original paper.
“Walking outside, in the garden or on the streets, we are constantly walking on snail excrement,” says Schreuder. “But, because this excrement is very small and looks like normal dirt, we are not aware of this. This made me think of a situation where this excrement is in colour.”
The snail faeces can also be pressed into a mould using a spatula to create a delicate thread with a 5mm diameter that the designer is currently researching uses for.
“One metre of thread will take me an hour and contains six grams of excrement that is ground before processing,” said Schreuder. “It will take approximately nine snails five days to produce these six grams.”
To make the tiles, Schreuder uses a machine to grind and mix the snail excrement. This is then pressed into moulds and finally dried in tile form to be used as a floor covering.
Lieske Schreuder, born 1985, graduated from Utrecht Art School in 2012. Since then she has worked as a researcher, artist, material designer and lecturer.
“At the moment, I really consider myself an art-maker who expresses herself in different methods and media. I feel comfortable to create a work out of every medi- um. When finished, it may concern a photo, installation, drawing or sculptural work. During the process, I am very excited and motivated,” explains Schreuder.
“My method is actually a constant reflection and response to a process. Drawing provides a next step for a work which clearly shows the inspiration created by the sketch on which it was based. Generally speaking, I work with various components in a project. So a spatial work and a drawing and a photo. This keeps me sharp and gives me a fresh take on a possible end product.”
This article first appeared in Tile & Stone Journal, March 2014