In the Gallery

A Deeper Score Emilija Škarnulytė’s Sunken Cities

This text was originally published on the occasion of Emilija Škarnulytė's exhibition Sunken Cities at Kunsthaus Pasquart, Biel/Bienne, Switzerland, 2021.

Hold your breath. Drop. Dive. Open your eyes. Leave your body at the surface. You are now all eye, like a drill; all tail, like a fish. What are you trying to extract, to mine from your cool liquid entry? You pass, cool as a camera with your lens of language, though dry corridors of nuclear seas, liquid hallways of sunken cities, strange scaffolding of deep-sea mining, sculptural figures of destroyed empires. Your dry eye reaches for: Mosaics of the sea floor or mosaics of the control room; a body slithering, snakelike, over its nuclear control panels. Elsewhere, in another deep, jellyfish are loose and luminescent and laboring as flowers articulating the black. Architectures rise like language inside you, lean and lucid or marmoreal and voluptuous, each writ across the wet pages of southern bodies of water, dry pages of northern bodies of tundra.

In this dark, in the blue-green light, recite with your mouth, with your eye: Roman ruins and ruins of Cold War; the hedonistic resort of 44 BC fell six meters; the Gulf of Naples filled it, like a mouth. In the Gulf of Mexico now, the scaffoldings of more ruins of empire—ours—and all the desperate drilling, grinding, excavating, taking. Our bodies descend and go in, like drills. We are mining—this endlessly wet and underground material—for everything. The camera is steady; you are steady. Minerals and plankton and oil glitter. Machines and marine animals chirp and click and echo. What we remove to the deep: waste, our desire, our projections, our cables, our algorithms. What we move across the deep: our bodies, our machines, extracting images and sound and resources, their mineral violence. Atoms, splitting; cities, sinking; and us going down. Some empire is going down—some empire is always going down—while our body floats by with a little wave.

Who brought you here? Some mermaid archaeologist, some modern undine, some artist-as-siren-as-museum guide. Some body as soundwave, as cognition only. What cities are sunk deep inside you? Does it matter? In your sunken mediums, unroll the sunken footage. Watch it. Blue-black rooms, shell-encrusted columns, luminous clouds of plankton. The drone’s eye, the submarine’s eye, the microscopic eye, the macroscopic eye of the sun, burning like an eye into the sea. Swim toward it. What images lie below you, on your sea floor; whose bodies do they depict, grappling with each other’s existence? Why are you swimming above them, swaying in the blue-green swell of your mind, as buoyant and weighted as the columns kissed and crushed by half-hearts of shell? Mosaic, neoprene, saline, chlorophyll, oil, mineral, sex, empire, bivalves, shifting tectonic plates, shifting desires, some ancient volcanic basin. Your sea fits the definition of a desert. Say it again: someone has built this city in a desert. A saline sea sways over it, like some sister, in the warm currents coming from the more marginal seas that feed it. Weightlessness and weighted politics. If making visible is itself a mode of extraction, this bringing all to light and surface, how can your images resist such pillage? You are not pillaging the sunken city, though, you are swimming it. Now count before you go deeper into it: one, two, three, four, five—now go.

About Quinn Latimer

Quinn Latimer is the author of Like a Woman: Essays, Readings, Poems (Sternberg Press, 2017) and other books. She was editor-in-chief of publications for documenta 14 in Athens and Kassel, and she is currently a lecturer at Institut Kunst Gender Natur, in Basel.