Letters on Volcanic Eruptions
The eruption of Icelandic volcanoes, Fimmvördháls and the one under Eyjafjallajökull glacier, and the resulting ash clouds, were bringing European airports to a halt at the time of making this book. We decided to ask our friend Bjarki Bragason, an Icelandic visual artist living in Los Angeles, to write about them – to open up tje relationship between volcanoes and art. He responded with a proposal to exchange notes with his fellow Icelandic artist friend Anna Líndal, whose work includes investigation into the local landscape, in collaboration with scientists.
Ihave been thinking about all this stuff lately, the eruptions in Iceland and what the reactions to them might signal. I´ve been thinking about what it means to use Iceland as a device, or point of view, in one´s art practice. It´s been strange living in California for the past two years, observing Iceland in the news because of the collapse of the economy two years ago, and now because of the eruptions.
The media has been telling stories of massive failure, and it feels as if the country is no longer being seen as just cute and weird, but rather portrayed as a site of perpetual catastrophe, wich, at the moment, leaves people stuck at Heathtrow and other airports all over the world. Iceland has long been mystified as a sublime place where nature and people coexist in a magical state of ingenuity and cleanliness, producing aluminium with water and banking like nobody´s business. Now the country is related to mundane problems, and greed, corruption an all that. It´s not the collapse of the economy has any relationship to natural disasters, but the way both are seen by the world relate to problems, rather than, say, poetic inspiration.
I didn´t intend to turn this letter into a study of the Icelandic condition, but I guess it´s inevitable if I´m mixing the idea of the volcanic eruption with art…
I´m more preoccupied with the behaviour of the eruption and its effects on the near environment. Heathrow being closed is just a piece of information to me, it doesn´t move me in any way. I think it´s just interesting, antrhropologically, how man is not prepared to take notice of natural disasters. If flights are grounded in a large area, a chain reaction starts and affects the most unbelievable things. Everyone wants to be insured for everything.
I went over to the eruption with people from the Earth Sciences department. We had been driving around the glacier for two days, collecting samples, before we managed to see anything. On the third day, we finally saw the eruption and observed lava flowing down the creek at Morrisheisedi. We followed it until we saw it flowing off the edge of the cliff in a waterfall – like way. It was unvelievable.
As it happens, my favourite picture on site was taken at the base of the second eruption at Fimmvörduháls where I had accidentally set up my video camera to point upwards, and it had shot the sky instead of the eruption.
That photo is beautiful. I was trying to view it on my phone while driving. In all the commotion. I accidentally took this picture.
I´m still thinking about the changing idea of Iceland. With everything that has happened in the last two years, it has often felt like a strange dream, but it´s all fact. And now this teenager-esque country has had to deal with a new reality that can generate new narratives. I mentioned earlier that Iceland is portrayed as a site of perpetual catastrophe. On second thought, that is actually exactly what makes it exotic and mysticised.
I think this eruption just reaffirms the geology of the land. I´m not sure if it does much else. When I was a kid, weather mattered more, distances seemed longer, and this place felt harsher. Technology, good exchanges rates and the recent warming in weather have almost managed to dry out this sense for the land.
Edited and curated by OK Do, Helsinki / London / Paris