Emilija Škarnulytė: Æqualia

January 19–March 30, 2024

Æqualia is a new immersive installation from Lithuanian-born artist Emilija Škarnulytė, co-commissioned by Canal Projects and the 14th Gwangju Biennale.

In this piece, Škarnulytė swims through the Encontro das Águas in Manaus, Brazil as a mermaid called “Æqualia.” The Encontro das Águas is the confluence where the Rio Solimões and Rio Negro give birth to the Amazon River.

Rio Solimões’ milky white waters, originating in glacial melt, turbid with suspended and nutrient-rich silts and clays from the High Andes, meets the heavy, black flow of the Rio Negro, dark with the decay of lowland rainforests, warm and hypoxic. The stark difference in temperature and composition causes the two rivers to remain distinct in color, temperature, and chemical profile for a six-kilometer stretch, before finally merging.

The rivers’ fluid instability is the result of differences in velocity and viscosity. They come together in fractal swirls along their meeting points– a similar phenomenon can be seen in other diverse and dynamic environments, ranging from the Red Spot of Jupiter to fluctus cloud formations, to the curls of a thin layer of oil on top of a simmering pot of water. In Æqualia these fractal swirls build and accelerate until the two streams become one.

The river basin is home to the pink Amazon River dolphins (Inia geoffrensis geoffrensis), locally known as botos. The dolphins use their honed sense of echolocation to navigate both the cooler waters of Rio Solimões and the warm, opaque waters of Rio Negro, moving between the two with ease. Swimming alongside the botos, Škarnulytė embodies the mermaid Æqualia—a chimera figure—existing at the intersection of multiple realms. She seamlessly blurs the boundaries between the human, the nonhuman, and the transcendental, melding scientific and mythological elements into a singular hybrid and vibrant force.

By October 2023, within a year of completing the filming of Æqualia, the Encontro das Águas ran dry due to excessive droughts leading to the mass dying-off of the botos. Embodied as a mermaid—half fish, half person—Škarnulytė unveils the repercussions of human hubris. Through her incarnation, she presents visions extending beyond the perceptual limits of our species, urging reflection on the consequences of our actions.

Continuing its commitment to supporting artist projects that allow audiences to reflect on the visual and material consequences of globalization and its extractive economies, Canal Projects will organize public programs in partnership with the More Than Human Rights (MOTH) Project at New York University to shed additional light on the sites and subjects of Škarnulytė’s exhibition. This collaboration will bring in expert voices from the Amazon and continue to create spaces for collaborative knowledge production and the promotion of environmental justice.

At the opening of Æqualia on Friday, January 19 join us at 7:30pm for Confluence, a performance by Emilija Škarnulytė and mayfield brooks with sound by Omar Ahmad.

Location: The Meeting of Waters, Rio Solimões and Rio Negro, in Manaus, Brazil (3°8′12″S 59°54′17″W). Images courtesy of Mirror Matter Productions, Emilija Škarnulytė 2023.

Special thanks to the Lithuanian Culture Institute, the Lithuanian Council for Culture, OCA: Office for Contemporary Art Norway, and The Norwegian Consulate General in New York for additional exhibition support.

Emilija Škarnulytė (b. 1987, Vilnius) is a Lithuanian-born nomadic artist and filmmaker. Working between the realms of the documentary and the imaginary, Škarnulytė makes films and immersive installations exploring deep time and invisible structures. She works in realms that range from the cosmic and geological to the ecological and political. She most recently presented works at MORI Art Museum, Kiasma, Gwangju Biennale, Helsinki Biennale, Vilnius Biennale, Henie Onstad Triennale, Penumbra. Her work was presented in solo exhibitions at Ferme-Asile, Sion (2023); Kunsthaus Pasquart, Biel/Bienne (2021); Den Frie, Copenhagen (2021); National Gallery of Vilnius (2021); Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin (2017); Contemporary Art Centre CAC of Vilnius (2015). Prizes awarded to her include the 2023 Ars Fennica Award and the 2019 Future Generation Art Prize. She represented Lithuania at the XXII Triennale di Milano and participated in the Baltic Pavilion at the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale. She has films in the collections of the IFA, HAM, Kadist Foundation and Centre Pompidou, and her works been screened at the Tate Modern and Serpentine Gallery in London, Centre Pompidou in Paris, Museum of Modern Art in New York, and numerous film festivals.

Æqualia was co-commissioned by Canal Projects and the 14th Gwangju Biennale thanks to the support of Canal Projects Board of Managers and Advisory Board, The YS Kim Foundation, and the Gwangju Biennale Foundation.

This is Škarnulytė’s first presentation in New York. The artist would like to thank Sook-Kyung Lee, Harry C. H. Choi, Nahyun Kim, Frances Reynolds, Lucas Albuquerque, Linas Lapinskas, Erik Vojevodin, Adam Kleinman, Andrew Fowler, Andrew Berardini, Karen Barad, Instituto Inclusartiz, the Lithuanian Culture Institute, the Lithuanian Council for Culture, OCA: Office for Contemporary Art Norway.

Written and directed by: Emilija Škarnulytė
Editing: Vytautas Tinteris
Exhibition Architecture: Linas Lapinskas
Composers: Jokūbas Čižikas, Vivian Caccuri, Thiago Lanis, Savio de Queiroz
Sound mixing and mastering: Savio De Queiroz
Drone Pilot: Bruno Hayden Barreto
Underwater camera: Michael Dantas
Swimmer: Emilija Škarnulytė
Production: Mirror Matter Productions

  • Emilija Škarnulytė, Æqualia, 2023. Single-channel video installation. 9 mins. Courtesy the artist, Commissioned by Canal Projects and the 14th Gwangju Biennale. Installation view, Canal Projects. Image courtesy Canal Projects. Photo: Izzy Leung.
  • Emilija Škarnulytė and mayfield brooks with sound by Omar Ahmad, Confluence. Performance documentation, January 19, 2024. Image courtesy Canal Projects. Photo: Walter Wlodarczyk.