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  • Writer's pictureRoko Zaper


Updated: Apr 8, 2022

This is a revised promo artwork for my project Nautilus Epoch.

It shows the main character, Lily, enclosed in a nautilus shell.

The artwork contemplates what would a human's sensory experiences inside one be like. I chose the nautilus (Greek: sailor) shell because it is one of the most recognisable and oldest types of shells in existence, dating from the Triassic Period. As well as because of its symbolic significance, I chose it for a personal connection I feel to it. When I visited New Caledonia in 2019, the only souvenir I brought home was a 'nautilus' plaque. I wasn't aware at the time that this was the place where the famous Jacques Cousteau had done most of his research on the 'sailor' of the sea.

Yet the nautilus shell is not just an empty vessel, but a living organism who builds its shell gradually as it grows. The fact that so many people perceive it as only a shell is revealing about our utilitarianism and how the nautilus' status as a living creature is of secondary importance, if at all. In the poem The Chambered Nautilus, Oliver Wendell Holmes used the nautilus as a metaphor for human spirituality an asserted we should strive to build new things upon the chambers of the past. Despite using the example of nautilus, the poem's end reflects a rather humancentric take on life.


Let each new temple, nobler than the last,

Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,

Till thou at length art free,

Leaving thine outgrown shell by life’s unresting sea!

Contradictory to the poem and instead of breaking free and leaving its shell, the real life nautilus remains within its shell and as it dies. Rather than being discarded, it gets used by nature to replenish itself. The humanity's desire to better itself and build 'more stately mansions' ultimately dominates the message, despite the noble allegory of nature used. Could the idea of a human inhabiting a shell then serve to change our view of the shell and its' inhabitant as co-existing in a more interconnected universe? We often hear the saying to 'come out of your shell' but what if that shell is forever tied to us?

Recently, on a trip to the beach I was met with more shells than I had ever seen before. As I picked them up I checked to see if there was anything living inside. Some were empty but some were inhabited as indicated by a wet slurp and retreating tentacle. But all were part of a tapestry that was both alive and dead at the same time. Like many others, I have in the past brought home shells from beaches into a domestic environment where they become another lifeless object, robbed both visually and physically of the glitter of life they are afforded by the sea. If we separate the nautilus from the sea, from its shell and from its status as a living being, there is very little left. That is why I believe there is still much to learn from this traveler of the deep, not just in terms of some distant secret aura that the nautilus has gained from its journey, but in how it lives and dies in such symbiotic symmetry, leaving us to admire its perfect contours.

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