TifFAUXny Snails - A Tale of Gold and Glass
Mixed media performance installation
Dimensions and duration variable
Snails are not native. They’re a product of the Gold Rush, of boom and bust cycles, of California style disruption and enterprise. They came here in 1848 as part of a business effort by a French immigrant named Antoine Delmas. Blessed with two green thumbs - one for growing plants and one for making money - Antoine imported all his French favorites to California, including escargot snails, as well as merlot and cabernet grapes. With everyone else eyeing the hills for riches, he turned his sights closer to home - to the pantries, wine cellars, and tables of the burgeoning city by the bay. In his mind, this was a fools gold proof plan. He was going to be rich! His imports would be a hit! Well, two out of three ain’t bad… There’s a reason Northern California is renowned for it’s wine and not it’s escargot.
At the same time that Antoine was schlepping snails across the Atlantic, the Tiffany family was schlepping to their Manhattan doctor’s office to deliver their first born son - Louis Comfort. And when I say Tiffany, I mean THAT Tiffany, as in the diamonds and the little blue boxes.
Louis Comfort, however, was a lot like snails on a miner’s plate - not exaaaactly what his father wanted or expected. Dad was a consummate businessman. He took his empire from a country store in Connecticut to the height of New York society to an international brand without parallel. Louis Comfort on the other hand was a rebellious son, an artiste, a rich dilettante who lost a fortune to an excess of art ideas and a poverty of business ones. His endeavors leaked cash like Delmas’ rickety breeding pens leaked gastropods. Which is to say, steadily over a 50 year career. But like the gold miners, he was chasing a dream that at times resembled nothing so much as his own sunk cost fallacy. Gold fever, but for glass.
And yes, he decorated mansions and the White House. He defined Art Nouveau in the US and is in every major museum collection today. But he lost a 12 million dollar inheritance (in 1900’s dollars) doing so, he almost sunk the family jewelry business, and when he died, his work was so out of vogue that the bulk of it went to the dump because no dealer or private buyer wanted anything to do with such tacky schlock. Come to think of it, despite taking place in New York, this cycle of boom and bust and boom again is a deeply San Francisco story. Louis Comfort Tiffany, the OG Startup Bro. He even had his own incubator! The Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation, which was designed to steer young artists away from the horrors of modernism. He would have fit in well in Silicon Valley, although I’m sure he would have advocated calling it Silver Valley after his family business instead.
It’s startup bros all the way down here, isn’t it? Which is a snide way of saying that historical precedents echo through time, through cities. Can you see it? How in 1848 a gold nugget was found at Sutter’s mill. How in 1848 a Frenchman with dreams of fine dining brought grapes and snails to the Bay. How in 1848 a famous family was torn apart by dreams of glass. Can you feel how all these small events still impacts us 171 years later?
Boom or bust. Bust or Boom. Let’s go walking. I have things to show you.