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Wind Fellow
February 6, 2023

2023 Wind Fellow Spotlight: Stephanie Van Riet

About the Author
Danielle Redden

Danielle Redden is an art historian who received her MA in the History of Art and Archaeology from the University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies. Her work focuses on contemporary artists of African descent, specifically in performance art and new media. She is passionate about visual art as a bridge between communities and believes that engagement with art and creativity is an essential human need. She has been a guest lecturer on Contemporary Art out of Africa at Cairn University and was a presenter at the Weatherford College Philosophy of Religion and the Arts Conference in 2019. Redden currently resides in Philadelphia, where she enjoys exploring the city’s vibrant arts and culture sector.
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Like many of us who live on the East Coast, growing up, my family would take an annual beach trip. I remember as a child collecting sand crabs in my bucket and the games I would invent; the ocean my playmate. Drawing with my footprints and digging holes with my shovel, I would make a sand castle. Then as the tide came in, I would wait for my castle moat to fill and see if my trench could withstand the waves, which would inevitably rise onto the shore and take with them my creations. In recent years at the beach, I have had conversations about the vastness of the ocean, which covers 70% of our planet yet remains one of the least explored places. It makes my partner uneasy, not knowing what could be beneath us in the deep. Yet, I find peace floating on the open sea. Letting the waves take me wherever they please reminds me of how I, like the sand crab, am a small creature taken care of by the forces of nature surrounding me.
"Time and Traveler", 2022, Xerox transfer, 22"x30".
Wind Fellow Stephanie Van Riet's work enfolds these responses, which mirrors the continuous play between the macro and the micro found in the ocean. Born and raised in Massachusetts, Van Riet’s time spent in New England has heavily informed her subject matter and process. Her work highlights a fascination with sea snails and the trails they leave behind as they map their surroundings, find food, and interact daily. While the tide is low, these tracks are visible as unique patterns in the sand. However, when the tide rises, these marks are permanently effaced.
Time and Traveler (2022) is a 22 x 30 inch black and white grid of 72 squares created using a solvent transfer. In its entirety, Time and Traveler gives the impression of an aerial landscape. Individual blocks contain a variety of white crisscrossing lines reminiscent of road maps, while others resemble rivers or mountain ranges. The grid comprises photographs taken by Van Riet of sea snail trails first discovered on beaches spanning the eastern coast of the United States. While the images do not document a linear progression of the snail’s travel, the composition incites the notion of mapmaking. Their recorded movements call to mind daily timelines offered by Google Maps that allow someone to look back on their location throughout the day, reminders that time and memory are experiential. The journey of these snails feels extensive, maybe arduous, and invites curiosity and delight in how far they have traveled for something so small.
"Earthshine", 2022, Cyanotype on plaster, 9'x15'
Van Riet’s process reflects the spirit of a researcher. Each piece is driven by questions about the world, with the outworking of those questions the catalyst for subsequent works. In Earthshine (2022), the 2-D grid of Time and Traveler evolves into a 9 x 15 ft wall installation. Using the photo documentation of the sea snail trails, Van Riet carves these markings onto clay to create rubber molds which she uses to cast 150 individual 11 x 12.5 inch plaster tiles. From there, Van Riet implements light as source material in her work using a cyanotype solution on the tiles, a technique invented in the 19th century that uses iron compounds that oxidize to create Prussian Blue images when exposed to UV light and washed in water. By staggering the time each tile is exposed to the sun, the amassed grid emerges as an array of rich blues and deep indigos. Combined with the size of the installation, which extends beyond the peripheral vision field, gazing at Earthshine feels as if you are staring into a moving ocean. By scaling up the snail trails, Van Riet inverts the aerial experience of Time and Traveler, positioning the viewer as level to the snails themselves.
"Snail Guide Projector", 2022, Plexiglass, pine, plastic, metal joints, 3'x6'.
In the summer of 2022, Van Riet temporarily installed a 3 x 6 ft geodesic dome at Nahant Beach in Massachusetts, positioned where the tide reaches the sand. Snail Guide Projector, made up of 40 plexiglass triangle panels, evokes a greenhouse, as its shape allows for even light input throughout the day. Each panel is etched with a different data set of snail track patterns taken from Van Riet's photographic documentation, with laser-cut holes at each point of intersection. In Snail Guide Projector, light and time replicate the cycle of creation and erasure. The shape of the dome refracts light to project the etched snail patterns onto the sand. While the light preserves the trails, they are distorted by the incoming ocean tide, making them invisible and indiscernible. In documenting and etching the tracks, Van Riet situates a mutable daily natural phenomenon into human forms of organization. Much like the ever-present constellations in the night sky used to guide sailors, the geodesic dome records and projects the same trails regardless of the variables of sunlight and ocean tide. In recording and giving prominence to the quotidian movements of snails, Van Riet emphasizes the transient nature of every day as a challenge to find meaning and perhaps wonder in what appears to be arbitrary.
With a smile, Van Riet describes her work as chasing the theory of “How A Common Sea Snail Explains the Universe.” [2] Fueled by questions about life and truth, Van Riet is an artist-philosopher, creating to understand the “how” and the “why” of the world and our place in it. While an artist like Olafur Eliasson transforms spaces into experiential environments, Van Riet’s near obsession with sea snails is primarily a cerebral outworking. Her work intertwines personal marveling with an invitation to reflect. In identifying with the ebbs and flows of tiny creatures in a vast world, the snail trails become a line to process our own temporality, comings and goings, loss and memory, and a question one might not hear as often from someone so young: “How much time do I have”?

[1] Coop, Parallax Photographic. “How to Make Cyanotypes.” Parallax Photographic Coop, 24 May 2020,
[2] Van Riet, Stephanie, “Wind Fellows 2023 Pecha Kucha”, (Presentation, InLiquid Gallery, Philadelphia, PA, February, 3, 2023)
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