Artist Alma Heikkilä will participate in the 11th Gwangju Biennale opening in Gwangju, South Korea on September 2. Addressing eco-critical themes in her artistic practice, Heikkilä shares her thoughts on the forthcoming biennale, titled ‘The Eigth Climate (What Does Art Do?)’, and on taking an aeroplane to the other side of the world.
In her practice, Alma Heikkilä (b. 1984) diversely alternates between painting, photography, video and installation. She is a founder and active member of the Mustarinda Association, a community of like-minded artists and researchers that foster sustainable values and ecological and cultural diversity. She lives and works in Helsinki and in Hyrynsalmi in the Kainuu region of Northern Finland. She graduated from the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts in 2009.
“Ideally my works challenge the audience’s view of the material world, other species, the unknown, science and technology as well as prevailing ideas about the world and humanity,” Heikkilä describes.
At the 11th Gwangju Biennale Heikkilä will be presenting Things that are massively distributed in time and space, a mixed media installation containing large paintings. She was invited to take part in the biennale shortly after the Artistic Director, Maria Lind, had seen her work at the Espoo Museum of Modern Art (EMMA) last autumn. Maria Lind and the assistant curator of the biennale, Binna Choi visited Finland last autumn under Frame’s international visitor programme.
“In my installation, the audience moves inside or around the six-part piece without ever seeing the entire work as a whole. It is displayed so that viewers are forced to observe large surfaces from close up, allowing it to address phenomena which by virtue of their size, speed or distance are too immense for human perception or understanding, such as the biosphere, climate change, or the oil-dependent world order. The title of the exhibition is a reference to Timothy Morton’s book Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World,” Heikkilä says.
The 11th Gwangju Biennale addresses similar themes as Heikkilä, focusing on projects that address the agency of art in relation to the question, “what does art do?” A key element in the performative aspect of art is its projective and imaginative quality, or art’s active relationship with the future. The eighth climate theme also resonates with the ever-topical issue of global warming.
Though Heikkilä has already exhibited widely in Europe, the artist is looking forward to participating in her first international biennale. Her work can currently also be seen in the ‘City Agents’ exhibition at the EKKM Museum of Contemporary Art Tallinn, from where it will travel to the Vilnius Painting Triennale.
“My preparations for the Gwangju Biennale have gone really well so far. I’ve met all of the curators and we’ve had interesting discussions together. At this point, it’s hard to say what kind of impact the biennale will have on me or my artistic practice. I’m really curious and excited to see the exhibition and other works as well as to meet the other artists. I haven’t visited Korea before, so it’s going to be a very interesting experience.”
Heikkilä is travelling to Gwangju in advance to install the work. Considering the themes she addresses in her work, air travel itself evokes ambivalent feelings in her.
“I very rarely travel by air,” she says. “I avoid flying, whether for work or pleasure. The last time I flew was six years ago. Train travel would be possible within Europe, but this time it was too challenging to travel by land. Also my work has been transported to Korea as air cargo. It’s a bit ironic that a work and an artist addressing the theme of climate change are being transported by air to an exhibition that also takes a critical stance on these themes. I’ve been thinking a lot about these material aspects while preparing for the biennale. I allow myself to travel by air every five years, so after this trip, there will probably be a long break.”
Frame supported Heikkilä’s participation in the Gwangju Biennale by providing a grant.
Alma Heikkilä, cohesion, hydrocarbons, aspen, search engine, language and the others: Things that are massively distributed in time and space.
VI parts. Climate, Petroleum, Network, I, Biosphere, Sun. Photos: Ari Karttunen / EMMA