Before Present

In his latest work, Before Present, Bjarki Bragason reflects on the aspect of time as it appears in an eroded area in the highlands around lake Mývatn in North Iceland. In an expedition to the area in the summer of 2021, Bjarki accompanied earth scientists in their research on tephra, deposited by volcanic eruptions in Mount Hekla. The area surveyed is defined by landscapes of eroded heaths with large pockets of vegetation.

Hekla has erupted more than twenty times in the last thousand years. Tephra, the fragmental material produced by a volcanic eruption, is read like a calendar of earth history as it appears in layers of earth, one laid on top of another.

In the middle of the heath stands a large mound of remaining soil and plants, about three meters high, in the otherwise desolate surroundings. On windy days, a dust storm further disintegrates the vegetation cover.

In his observations of the area, Bjarki brought the perspective down to the roots of the vegetation at the bottom of the mound, shrinking the field of vision so that the smallest fragments become discernible. In the dust storm, particles of soil formed over the last thousand or more years are combined with tephra from the various layers of earth and blown vast distances, in an entropic cloud. The fragmented view, created by bringing the eye down to the ground is at once a change in the body‘s perception of space and an attempt to understand the complex interplay of time scales which occurs when geological information from different millennia is mixed, a collision indicative of the multi layered reality which the experience of nature is shaped by.

Editing and sound: Sabine Fischer

Special thanks: Anna Líndal, Magnús Tumi Guðmundsson, Guðrún Larse

Artist Bio

Bjarki Bragason studied fine art at the Iceland Academy of the Arts, Universität der Künste Berlin and completed an MFA at the California Institute of the Arts in Los Angeles in 2010. 

In his work, Bjarki focuses on collisions in time, tracing paradigm shifts through investigating the site of shifts, be it in geology, botany or architecture.