‘If I place the earthly woodland snail in my hand, the whole silent Western woodland joins with the magnificent Orient, so that, there, the spiral of the cosmos may begin’
‘I was fascinated by the speed of painting, rather than literature, as a possible way of expressing reality… paintings can be done from one day to the next. And that is just how it was, the strokes took up the whole surface rather than being just strokes from negative to positive’
The snail, like the spiral, is a repeatedly used motif in Merz’s work as an inter-connective symbol between macrocosm and microcosm. The spiral of the snail’s shell, Merz recognized, was a naturally occurring model of the Fibonacci spiral and like the Fibonacci progression of numbers, something from which both the structure of the universe and a notion of infinity could be deduced. For Merz, the spiral was a potent symbol of the endless flow of space and time and of the interpenetrative nature of all phenomena. ‘The spiral’ he once said, ‘is the form of the void, the spiral is the form of the solid, the spiral is the pause of the void, the spiral is the tension of the solid, the spiral is by opposites the tension and the pause of an organic that is also musical and pictorial; to begin again the most imaginary form of the void is still the spiral’ (Mario Merz, quoted in Mario Merz, exh. cat. Prato, 1990, p. 79).
The snail - a tiny creature to be found in most people’s gardens - secretes its own house from its own body according to the form of such a spiral. It thereby creates all it needs according to this simple and universal guiding principle. In the famous case of the Tyrean sea snail, which Merz also often invoked in his art, this tiny creature also created that rarest and most precious of ancient colours - Tyrean purple - the colour used to dye the cloaks of the Roman emperors. Found on the bottom of the Mediterranean sea this lowly creature became the most highly prized animal on earth. For Merz, therefore, the snail was a living embodiment of the mystic spiral that ran like a golden thread through all creation.
In this work, which bears the appropriate and amusing title Meteorites in the Garden Merz employs a series of snail shells to directly invoke this universal connection between the vast and the very small and between the microcosmic and the macrocosmic. Using streaks of clay in such a way that they seem to radiate from the spirals of a number of snail shells that he has affixed to the canvas Merz creates a constellation of forms that suggest both palm trees and/or a group meteorites burning through the atmosphere. Reflecting the work’s title, here the distinctly earthbound is used to invoke a cosmic phenomenon. Merz’s title Meteorites in the Garden is also the one now used for the series of annual contemporary visual and music events given in Merz’s honour each summer at the Fondazione Merz in Turin.