In what ways do we [humans] imagine, think about, and interact with the interdependence of microbial life, and how might we newly encounter “knowing” in our human–non-human entanglements towards a different way of living?
A large farmhouse on the remaining plot of a once-vast farmland has been neglected for over a decade until now. Located in the middle of a new urban-residential area, the farmhouse is now seen as a part of Utrecht’s agricultural heritage. Who will decide on its future and for what?
Casco Art Institute: Working for the Commons presents its first biannual exhibition program at its headquarters with Evolved in shared relationships, a solo exhibition by Finnish artist Alma Heikkilä, and Erfgoed (Agricultural Heritage and Land Use), a collective exhibition for the eponymous project running at the Terwijde farmhouse. Our exhibitions opened on Saturday, 15 September in conjunction with Uitfeest, the lively, two-day celebration of the new cultural season in Utrecht. Both exhibitions are organized as part of the long-term project and study line Center for Ecological (Un)learning by Casco Art Institute and the Leidsche Rijn-based interdisciplinary collective The Outsiders, and deal with one of the most fundamental dimensions of the commons: ecology.
With her new mixed-media installations, Alma Heikkilä presents us with an opportunity to sense and imagine the mostly invisible microorganisms that are within and around us, while a group of artists and neighbors of the Terwijde farmhouse harvest all of the farmhouse activities from the last spring and summer to collectively reanimate the farmhouse as a site for the commons – not only for the humans but also for other non-human actors. We have faced the consequences of climate change directly and physically this summer, so understanding our ecological sphere and responding accordingly feels more urgent than ever. We hope that these double exhibitions and the program around it provide such a possibility!
Evolved in shared relationships
Solo exhibition by Alma Heikkilä
Saturday, 15 September – Sunday, 11 November 2018
Evolved in shared relationships, a solo exhibition by Alma Heikkilä, presents the Finnish artist’s new mixed-media installations *’ , ‘ /~
flashing decaying wood, / /_/~ . * | * _ . .**, and intimate symbiosis. The painterly, sculptural works form a visual language for sensing and imagining human–non-human relationships.
As the smallest living organisms known, microbes are powerful agents that create and sustain life and the world we live in. They influence and support plant and animal compositions and participate in their disintegration in tandem with the macro-scale environmental ecosystems in which the species live and depend. Antithetical to the individualizing nature-culture of humans as a stable-category species, or even corporations acting as “individuals,” microorganisms act communally. This acknowledgement disrupts the boundaries that characterize the biological individual. In what ways do we [humans] imagine, think about, and interact with the interdependence of microbial life, and how might we newly encounter “knowing” in our human–non-human entanglements towards a different way of living?
Alma Heikkilä uses the disciplines of painting, photography, video, and sculpture to represent scientific data and her assimilation to it, her bodily environment and time spent with recent critical ecological and posthuman thought. Understanding that imaging technologies within microbiology also bare constraints, Heikkilä works with aesthetics and language to share a sense of microbiota and symbiosis differently, sensorially, and imaginatively. She is interested in how the microbial world and new scientific findings of symbiosis can be presented in art, with her conviction that “we perceive only that part of nature that our technologies permit and, so too, our theories about nature are highly constrained by what our technologies enable us to observe.”
The central piece of the exhibition is Heikkilä’s new work *’ , ‘ /~
flashing decaying wood, / /_/~ . * | * _ . .**, an installation that conjures the material potential of painting and sculpture. The work narrates an intimate story of biocenosis, whereby the emphasis is on imagining the living and non-living matter that form an ecological community together with the infrastructure of canvas, plaster, and ink. Such an installation takes on new life – literally – and changes over time with water and ink made of European alder (Alnus glutinosa). The artist has a non-speciest working process, meaning that her collaborations with living and non-living matter lead to unanticipated results. Like pigments and fluids settling into a surface, an end is only a fraction or phase – determined by interactions visible and limited to the human body and its sensing organs. The exhibition also includes Heikkilä’s intimate symbiosis, a spatial intervention featuring stretched canvas, paint, and plaster. A canvas wall is installed in a way to alter the scale and to omit natural light. The installation, which includes other painterly sculptures, becomes a site to host exploration and interaction with the architecture of the space. Additionally the exhibition highlights Heikkilä’s engagement with Mustarinda, a residency deep in the northern forest of Finland and operated by a group of artists and researchers who publish a series of magazines focusing on the ecological rebuilding of society, the diversity of culture and nature, and the connection between art and science.
Alma Heikkilä also joins with Erfgoed (Agricultural Heritage and Land Use) to present a temporary site-specific installation at Terwijde farmhouse from 13 – 16 September. The photo documentation of this work also makes up a part of her contribution to the Erfgoed exhibition.
‘ , ‘ /~
flashing decaying wood, / /_/~ . * | * _ . .*, 2018
On view 15 September–11 November, 2018
A fallen, decaying tree exists as a host for microorganisms for 50 to 125 years before it becomes indistinguishable to the human eye from the forest floor. Around it lives a community of insects and their larvae, woodlice, fungi, slime molds, bacteria, slugs and snails, and millipedes.
While decomposition is often associated with negativity and death, it is a vital process in the reproduction and sustaining of life. From the material to the metaphorical, artist Alma Heikkilä draws a link between the value of a “detriti-vore” community and the beauty value that humans ascribe to a tree, forest, or the otherwise “picturesque.”
Like the majority of reproductive labor, most of the necessary recycling work done by microorganisms is out of sight and unnoticed. With plaster, paint, and canvas, Heikkilä sculpted this vibrant organic life and invites us to imagine this ecological commoning process as essential for our social and cultural commons. As the exhibition unfolds, the installation will change, self-moulding in interaction with the air, light, and our movements around it.
intimate symbiosis, 2018
On view 15 September–21 October, 2018
Like the ecology of a forest and its rich and diverse microbial life, the human body is host to trillions of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other tiny organisms.
Symbiotic relationships are essential to organisms and ecosystems, including mutualism (both organisms benefit), commensalism (one benefits and the other is unaffected), and parasitism (one benefits and the other is harmed). Algae and fungi together as lichens and two humans as the smallest social unit, “intimate symbiosis” is a space to think about human and nonhuman relationships.
In this installation, Heikkilä elaborates on the materials used in Room 1. Sunlight, electricity, and the Casco Art Institute team and Erfgoed communities – she has made plaster molds from the team’s fingers – also make up the installation. To offer further perspective, a small painting depicts fungi as visible on both a tree and a human toe.
Take your time here to notice the details, both in the space and within yourself. The question is where a body of any size ends and the next body begins.
Alma Heikkilä (1984) lives and works in Hyrynsalmi and Helsinki. She graduated from the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts in 2009, and has since participated in exhibitions across Europe and elsewhere, including the recent solo exhibition none are truly separate at Gallery AMA (FI) in 2017, group exhibitions at Art Lab Gnesta and Tensta Konsthall (SE), and Monitor Lisbon (PT) in 2018, as well as the Gwangju Biennale The Eighth Climate (What Does Art Do?) in 2016. At Mustarinda, Heikkilä serves as Chair of the board.
Erfgoed (Agricultural Heritage and Land Use)
Collective exhibition in partnership with: The Outsiders (Txell Blanco, Asia Komarova & Leonardo Siqueira) and with contributions by: Xalil Abdullah, Maria Stijger Aramburu, Ali Authman, Riek Bakker, Eric de Boer, Bart Broeze, Britt Dorenbosch, Malek & Fatima, Manne Heijman, Patricia Jiménez-López, Yong Xiu & Nen Lin, Avan Omar, Dounia El Ouardani, Dineke Oudijk, Terwijde Terror Triple, Iet & Kees van Vuuren, Hinke Weikamp, Judith Winkel, Kesewah Yeboah, Merel Zwarts
Saturday, 15 September – Sunday, 21 October 2018
Erfgoed (Agricultural Heritage and Land Use) is a project to collectively reanimate the Terwijde farmhouse and its surrounds in Leidsche Rijn. While the farmhouse is privately owned its future remains under a cloud – undoubtedly a result of the city’s redevelopment of the once-vast farmland area to urban residential blocs. Since 2017 Leidsche Rijn-based interdisciplinary art collective The Outsiders and the team of Casco Art Institute gained access to this otherwise non-breathing farmhouse and have been hosting and facilitating activities there with the multi-year project and study line called Center for Ecological (Un)learning. Erfgoed (Agricultural Heritage and Land Use) is the first major experiment for Center for Ecological (Un)learning, taking the farmhouse as a site for the commons, not only for the humans but also for other non-human actors. The exhibition at Casco Art Institute presents the harvest from the farmhouse’s spring/summer activities. The activities ranged from transforming the space with architectural interventions to organizing a number of vibrant activities in and around the farmhouse, including foraging, second-hand clothing shops, a neighborhood kitchen, and art-educational activities with plants and vegetables from the farmland.
The exhibition is built collectively, with the majority of contributions coming from artists and neighbors of Leidsche Rijn and those who have been actively inhabiting and making use of the Terwijde farmhouse. They are the “new farmers,” cultivating both the life and a possible future for the farmhouse and the culture of Leidsche Rijn. The exhibit showcases new infrastructural work that was installed at the farmhouse, such as a new entrance that gives direct access to the farmhouse from the adjacent shopping-mall complex, as well as a slide and other play objects for children, and handmade signage. Holiday shelters for chickens and an insect hotel are also indispensable features. The outcomes of the artistic-educational programs, and the season’s produce – including beer, eggs, and pickled vegetables – will also be shown.
Visitors will find sculptural models of the farmhouse and its surrounds – depicting the past and the present – and can learn more via the video documentation of the Leidsche Rijn bike tour by the neighborhood’s head architect and planner Riet Bakker. While the exhibition is open, a legal case around the farmhouse may bring a verdict on its general status and influence the ownership. Attending to this process and the uncertainty it produces, the exhibition works as a collective proposal for the future use of this agricultural landmark. This “harvest” is offered as reference for this open, collective and perhaps fugitive planning for commoning the Terwijde farmhouse.
Please note that the Terwijde farmhouse is open from Saturday, 1 September to Saturday, 15 September, Thursday to Saturday, 12:00 until 21:00 hrs. Sunday, from 12:00 until 18:00 hrs. This is your last chance to visit in 2018! The exhibition at Casco continues until Sunday, 21 October.