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Alma Heikkilä: semipermeable & sensitive

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Finnish artist Alma Heikkilä is fascinated by the collective activities of the forest ecosystem, its connection to her body, as well as the creatures that live upon and within the human body. For 84 STEPS, Heikkilä presents a newly commissioned installation comprising two large-scale canvases. Together, they parallel the average volume of a human being’s gut lining: a total of 30 square meters. On the first canvas, the artist approaches the work as a forest bed on the microbial level. On the second canvas, hanging behind the first one, she portrays a close-up of a human forehead. As the light shines through the second canvas, the interrelation between the human body and its environments is highlighted.

In creating this work, Heikkilä invites us to acquaint ourselves with the many symbiotic relationships we participate in—with or without our knowledge—and the essential role they play in constantly making us who we are. Her work encourages us to contemplate how embodied knowledge may challenge our understanding of what it means to be a human, and invites us to consider how our conscious decisions are impacted by biology. The prefrontal cortex, which is the brain region that has been implicated in executive functions, such as planning and decision making, is located behind the forehead. Recent data suggests that the human body is a super-complex ecosystem containing trillions of bacteria and other microorganisms that inhabit all our surfaces, like the skin, and especially the intestines. Microbiota, specifically within the gut, can greatly influence many physiological parameters, including cognitive functions, such as learning, memory and decision making processes.

Heikkilä approaches artmaking as a space to spend time with these ideas, as well as with the minute and invisible processes beyond the realm of human bodily senses. In portraying these invisible biological environments, Heikkilä seeks to foreground the countless interconnections between the human body, its material surroundings, and other species.

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