The Second Fire

Gabriela Bulisova

2018 - 2019


The Second Fire is an intimate and innovative look at the impact of the climate crisis and increased pollution on Lake Baikal in Eastern Siberia, the world’s oldest, deepest and most voluminous lake. Artists Gabriela Bulisova and Mark Isaac spent a full year in Siberia under the auspices of a Fulbright grant creating experimental photographs that rely heavily on abstraction and reflection to universalize the subject matter and emphasize the importance of acting forcefully to preserve the precious Lake, which is home to thousands of unique plants and animals.

The project is inspired by an indigenous Buryat origin myth about the Lake, which contains one-fifth of the world’s freshwater. According to this legend, there was an enormous earthquake, fire came out of the earth, and native people cried “Bai, Gal!” or “Fire, stop!” in the Buryat language. The fire stopped, and water filled the crevice, creating the Lake, with its crystal clean water and diverse flora and fauna.

Now, scientific studies demonstrate that the Baikal region is one of the areas experiencing the most rapid increases in temperature in the world. Summer surface water temperatures increased by 2 degrees Celsius between 1977 and 2003, harming native plants and animals and contributing to massive blooms of algae. The warming of Baikal represents a “Second Fire” that endangers the Lake and its fragile ecosystem.

Baikal is called the “Sacred Sea” by native Buryats and Evenks, who lived their lives in concert with the natural world long before the environmental movement was born. Their ecological ethics provide a meaningful blueprint for a sustainable future, but it is not clear that authorities in Russia or around the world will accept their wisdom in time to make meaningful changes.

The project uses abstraction to universalize the subject matter and make clear that Baikal’s problems affect not only Russians but everyone around the globe. It also relies heavily on reflections because now is a time when we all must reflect on what we will do to safeguard what Siberian author and environmentalist Vladimir Rasputin called the “eternity and perfection” of the Sacred Sea. The project seeks to help us move beyond naming the problem and speculating about solutions into forceful action that will safeguard this precious and irreplaceable resource.

All photographs are digital, printed as 30” x 40” archival pigment prints, and displayed in sequence.

The full project also includes additional portfolios of experimental photographs, multiple three-channel videos, original music composed from scientific data about climate change at Lake Baikal, essays, and more. It can be found at:

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