Demon's Mouth gallery
Köbenhavngate 4

words by Bjarki Bragason

Dear Þorgerður,

I'm looking at a photograph I took eight years ago, North of Brúarjökull glacier, at the point where the rivers Jökulsá á Dal and Kringilsá, two distinctly coloured bodies of water, met to run a bit more than a hundred kilometres towards the North East coast. When the dam, which currently contains the two rivers in the Hálslón reservoir was completed, this landscape disappeared. This meeting place (1) was obliterated and the map is out-dated, replaced by a bland opaqueness of the massive reservoir, part of the mechanism that runs the massive power plant which runs the massive aluminium factory some kilometres away on the East coast.

There is something massive about an area changing like that. A dam, 193 meters tall, 700 meters long, a reservoir with a 57 square km surface area, 2 km wide and 25 km long. The current area map can't describe what is below the water surface, under meters of silt. Maps published in the years before the inundation showed the space of the reservoir with dots lining its future outer perimeters with slanted lines across it, suggesting its in betweenness.

The reservoir comes to my mind when looking at the map markers for glacial moraines, (2) which you've been exploring in several ways. Moraines are geomorphic formations caused by the movements of glaciers. There are several different types of these formations, some of them called Washboard Moraines. As glaciers melt, and land surfaces from beneath them, evidence of time and changes appear. In other places it washes away with coastal erosion. There, one engages in a seemingly futile race against time to study that which is disappearing.

In our time, human activity has such an environmental impact that humans are a geological force. The blue zig-zag lines on paper and in space may seem abstract but are stand-ins for actual tangible change. Inundation is unquestionably the result of human action, as the current climate change seems to be as well. This gives way into questions of whether or not our systems are intelligent and how we manage on earth. There is confusion regarding what sort of a future is possible in the current ecological crises. A way to contemplate possible futures is to look at past societies.

You've pointed out the role prediction plays in archaeology. What methods do we include and exclude in the reading of artifacts and archaeological sites? Is it forbidden to use sensory experience as part of studying a place? Is it appropriate to take feeling into account when making a theory of how a place might have been lived in? Or is one limited to the fragments available and how they relate to knowledge we already have? Is your subjective reading of Kumlabrekka (3) valid or might you insert too much of your sensibilities, formed since the 1980's, over a place mostly shaped in the whatever-80's.

One wonders, knowing the level of confusion regarding old things and leftovers we find in our own lives; like the long super personal posts on our Facebook walls we thought were "leaked" private messages, which turned out were written intentionally, back when that was normal. In some ways I agree with what you said, that up to a certain extent much of this field is guesswork.

You are looking at fragments of plastic objects, found or even confused into the top layer of a dig. It is a fragment (4) through which a history might be read; it may be taken as proof for a theory, used in the study of human activity in the past.

There is something humble in seeing a plastic object photographed by archaeologists, placed in the archive of a national museum, yet again eerie, as it places yourself in the narrative of time and you realize that a society close to the one you live in is being studied as a thing of the past (5). Not that our civilization is a thing of the past just yet. Geological time and human time merges in the little red plastic fragment.

Most of human history is prehistory, happened before recorded time began (6). In this way, as with the red plastic fragment, we have to stretch ourselves to relate to it. It is strange to think how well unintended waste survives. This waste is both visible and sometimes intangible. Plastic in the sea is not all bound to solid matter, but particles of it disintegrate in water, into fish, into us, into everything.

We are looking at a pre-Christian burial site, what is known as kuml (7) in Icelandic. It struck me when you said that one can detect such sites by the land formation present when the graves have already been robbed or somehow meddled with. To know something only by it's destruction. That is in a way what archaeology does; break ground, clear up dirt and take stuff away for study.

You were wondering whether the Kumlabrekka, a site named after its many burial places, was still Kumlabrekka when all the burial sites had been emptied. Is it the same place as before, without the thing that gave it meaning?

And then, the question arises of what is important in the dig? Is the soil and surface turf less important than the single nail sometimes retrieved after lengthy periods of rummaging around? Like the beer bottle caps found in the excavations at Stonehenge (8). For me it underscores the overlap between periods more so than it undermines the relevance of digging into the ground. When you start taking everything into account, how fragments and pieces of earth slowly grew over and covered certain things later excavated, comments and information left behind on the internet, backup files stored on hard drives somewhere, you get overwhelmed. The floodgates will open into reservoirs of evidence. The histories of the bees employed by your dad to make honey in the garden planted by your grandparents, present in the piece of popcorn confused into the fragments being studied on a messy kitchen table by a group of archaeologists (9).

Perhaps your romantic idea of the field is out-dated, but perhaps it is also wild and exciting. Whether something is predicted or forecasted, the level of uncertainty is often high. It is present here, in the work, which you've made by going through layers of material from various times. From this has surfaced the video of you, walking through the maze, looking over the formation, touring through it. It goes to the centre (and back); it is the same, yet different (10).