"Swarm" by Haimi Fenichel, Part 3 in a Series by Katia Rabey
What’s the longest you have ever spent on a casting project? A month, maybe two? Maybe even six months? Israeli artist Haimi Fenichel finished his piece called Swarm last year after working on it… for ten whole years! Swarm is comprised of two angular metal poles each fixed in its own concrete cast base and each densely covered in snails.
It might look readymade, however for Fenichel it was quite the opposite of that. Everything - even the metal poles - was meticulously handmade. While respecting the idea of the readymade in general and the breakthrough it made in the art of the 20th century, for his own art, Fenichel makes a different choice: a choice to mark it with his own physical handwriting in addition to conceptual one.
12,000 of life-size porcelain snails: 5,000 on each of the poles and 2,000 to spare were manually cast by Fenichel one-by-one, then fired, painted, and fired again. Together they constitute a unity, sort of a one-hive mind that is even more precious because of the attention to detail paid by the artist to each of its little members.
The image of a giant swarm of snails sitting on a metal pole sticking out of concrete base for Fenichel has several layers of meaning. The pole and the concrete together represent the manmade land: concrete is gradually replacing the soil on which we walk and the metal pole looks as if it was uprooted from any of the various fences men have built to separate, to divide, to guard. At the same time, thousands of snails oppose it both visually and conceptually: they fuse into chaotic asymmetric formation around the poles like nature itself reclaiming the manmade obstacles.
In addition, the confrontation of nature and urban spaces in Swarm bears a sentimental meaning for Fenichel, reminding him of his Israeli childhood (in Israel, snails are often called by their Hebrew nickname “Berale,” which comes from a snail protagonist from a famous children’s book of the same name.) Combined, the innocence of the separate “Berales” and the force of nature that they represent when they are in a bunch attempt to claim back what was once theirs. Swarm shows an optimistic image of nature re-appropriating what was taken from it, but at the same time it inevitably brings out a more gloomy association with a post-industrial, post-apocalyptic wasteland, where the snails are the only inhabitants that remain on earth. Is it really that surprising? After all, it took artist ten years of labor to achieve this complex and hyper-realistic effect.