When the Sea Looks Back (A Serpent’s Tale) 2017 07 16–08 27



When the Sea Looks Back (A Serpent’s Tale)
16th of July–27th of August, 2017
Nida Art Colony of Vilnius Academy of Arts (E. A. Jonušo str 3, Nida)
Bryndis Björnsdottír, Cooltūristės, Ieva Epnere, Daniel Falb, Sonja Gerdes, Ulrike Gerhardt, Golden Diskó Ship, Emma Haugh, Suza Husse, Almagul Menlibayeva, Sondra Perry, Virgilijus Šonta, Elsa Westreicher
The Many Headed Hydra (Emma Haugh, Suza Husse)
dr. Rasa Antanavičiūtė
Graphics and layout:
Elsa Westreicher
Exhibition guides:
Viktorija Smailytė, Giedrė Malūkaitė, Vėjūnė Tamuliūnaitė
Skaistė Marčienė, Julija Navarskaitė
Jogintė Bučinskaitė (EN–LT), Edita Štulcaitė (DE-LT)
Communication curator:
Jogintė Bučinskaitė
Technical support:
Sandra Kazlauskaitė, Rokas Valiauga, Linas Ramanauskas, Audrius Deveikis
Radio transmission:
Neringa FM, www.neringafm.lt
We thank all the contributors and Auksė Bruverienė, Detlef Gericke, Magda Korsinsky & bbk Berlin Print Studio, Laima Kreivytė, Raimonda Meyer, Vytautas Michelkevičius, Lina Motuzienė, Romualdas Požerskis, Nijolė Strakauskaitė, Upartas UAB, District Berlin team: Johanna Ekenhorst, Janine Halka, Naomi Hennig, Hannah Kauzmann, Andrea Caroline Keppler, Annett Hofmann, Frank Sippel, Eva Storms
Poster short A3-page-001

The skin of the sea returns our gaze with unknown depths, tales of other lands and the movement of peoples. There is always something in the sea that tugs at the salt and water in our bodies, that seduces and alienates us in the same moment. Things we once knew but may have forgotten. Myths offer symbols that fuse our psyche with planetary streams, historical contradictions and kinships.

When The Sea Looks Back (A Serpent’s Tale) is a polyphonic oracle that takes the form of an exhibition, a series of evocations and a radio magazine curated by The Many Headed Hydra. Engaging the sea as a mirror and the serpent as a trickster The Many Headed Hydra surfaces at Nida Art Colony to weave a tale from the crossings of landscape, body and power.

Meeresspiegel (lit. sea level), sea mirror is a notion that challenges the perception of the sea as a surface where the gaze finds its horizon. To look back with the sea is to move below and to acknowledge a different dimension of time and space: The oracles in WHEN THE SEA LOOKS BACK (A Serpent’s Tale) fabulate that the desert landscapes of South and North, of the parched Aral and the Curonian ‘dead’ dunes, are connected beyond and before the aftershocks of an ecological modernity formed by colonial land use. They whisper of fishermen from Kazakhstan and other places across the Soviet Union who were relocated to the Curonian Spit to reactivate the fisheries and serve in the army after the second world war. They tell of interspecies transformations, of diaspora and border cultures with the help of the popular Lithuanian folk tale Eglė Queen of the Grass Snakes – a story that has migrated across centuries from India via Kazakhstan to Lithuania as well as to Turkey and Germany. 

“Give me back the sea” shouts the camel in Almagul Menlibayeva’s video work Transoxiana Dreams. The camel is an inhabitant of a fishing village that once lay at the shore of the Aral before its desertification caused by the Soviet agricultural project. In her dreams a fishermen’s child follows the journey of her father to the faraway waters of the Aral. She sees four-legged women becoming foxes that devour the rusty hulls of fishing boats stranded in the desert that had once been the bottom of the sea. 

Looking back with the sea from the Curonian Spit peninsula is to image a forest becoming a sand dune while ships are built from trees to sail between Atlantic shores under an imperial flag. The continuing tension between the desert dunes and the forest is a living trace of entangled histories: the Prussian expansion of colonial sea fare and trade, the cultural economy of the peninsula with its exoticized ‘dead’ dunes and fishing villages, the replanting of the forest carried out by generations of women while the sea and spit remained borderland claimed by four different nations across two centuries.

From here, from elsewhere –and from the elsewhere within here– many of the contributions for WHEN THE SEA LOOKS BACK (A Serpent’s Tale) resonate the voices of subaltern agents within post-imperial ecologies. A Serpent’s Tale is the subtitle of the most famous version of Eglė Queen of the Grass Snakes, a story of losing home, encounters with strangers,love, betrayal and death,written by the poet Salomėja Nėris in 1940. Drawing from its reptile-human and human-tree shape-shifting and its historical relation to the nationalised culture and migration, the Vilnius based collective Cooltūristės and the performance artist Bryndis Björnsdottír offer subversive re-readings of the myth. Together with Sondra Perry’s Black Girl As Landscape they complicate and disrupt patriarchal representations of landscape as a body to be exploited and surveyed, appraised and nationalized. Virgilijus Šonta’s 1970s and 1980s photographs from the Curonian Spit explore the borderland dunes incorporating mirroring surfaces, bodies and feathers as tokens of a longing: Perhaps I have come to this world in the wrong country, in the wrong social environment. Nevertheless, I believe in the existence of the country that would correspond to my inner state (Virgilijus Šonta).

Following serpentine markings of future, past and present coast lines, WHEN THE SEA LOOKS BACK (A Serpent’s Tale) spills out from the exhibition space into the surrounding landscape with a public program of readings, performances, radio broadcasts. Dune dances, compost poker games, cyborg oracles, lucid dreams and a deep time mythology app open out multiple narratives that slide from a forked snake tongue. By way of imagination, memory, oral and visual modes of transmission, WHEN THE SEA LOOKS BACK (A Serpent’s Tale) approaches the waters as historical topographies and political collectivities.  


The Many Headed Hydra is a shape-shifting collective interested in myths, practices andfluid geographies that emerge from bodies of water. Founded by the artist Emma Haugh and the curator Suza Husse at District Berlin in 2016 and developed with people from different islands, continents and peninsulas, The Many Headed Hydra is a queer, feminist, post-colonial art project. Involving research, art making and publishing based on collaboration and modes of storytelling The Many Headed Hydra uses publication as a performative device and surfaces in the form of magazines, exhibitions and evocations. 

SEA BODY INFRASTRUCTURE IMAGE Magazine #01 edited by Emma Haugh and Suza Husse was published in summer 2016 with surfacings in Berlin and Reykjavik. Contributors: Anna Hallin & Olga Bergmann, Bryndís Björnsdóttir, Hannah Black, Natasha Ginwala, Tinna Grétarsdóttir, Emma Haugh, Suza Husse, Occupational Hazard Project, Tejal Shah, Ato Malinda, Nine Eglantine Yamamoto-Masson and participants of the workshops “Speaking As Fishes” in Leipzig and Reykjavík. Published by District Berlin in collaboration with Occupational Hazard Project, Reykjavík.


After its itineration at VAA Nida Art Colony WHEN THE SEA LOOKS BACK (A Serpent’s Tale) will re-surface at District Berlin in fall 2017.


A project by Nida Art Colony of Vilnius Academy of Arts and District Berlin

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Supported by the Lithuanian Council for Culture & the Lithuanian Ministry of Culture, Goethe Institute Lithuania, the Arts Council of Ireland and the Nordic-Baltic Mobility Programme







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