Home Artworks Dark Biosphere

Dark Biosphere


Single piece Framed

From the series Ubiquitous, not visible nor recognizable in any form


115 x 144 x 2 cm
45.28 x 57 x 0.79 in







Ubiquitous, not visible nor recognizable in any form

Every fourth animal on this planet is a nematode but I have never felt their presence. Walking barefoot, have my feet touched their gentle tips? I lay on the ground imagining the soil life beneath me slowly sifting through my body. Food going through my body, my colon. Food going through the worm’s body. Neat piles of poop left in our wake. The soft and flexible tunnels that are our bodies slowly twisting around each other. Us reaching towards the rhizomes in the earth, or them reaching towards us.

Working with paint, plaster, resin, space, and light, Alma Heikkilä creates spaces for imagining processes that occur on the forest floor, underneath the surface of the earth, and inside the dark, soft tunnels of our bodies. For her solo exhibition at the Milanese Tempesta gallery, she presents a new body of work portraying intricate patterns of growth and decay.

Heikkilä is fascinated by the complex relationships and transformations that create thriving ecosystems. Incorporating swarms of minuscule sculptural elements into her paintings, Heikkilä portrays organisms whose ecologies and capacities humans are only beginning to appreciate. Heikkilä’s works make visible the abundance of life teeming inside a rotting tree trunk or beneath the soil surface. Countless soil organisms, only perceptible with the aid of a microscope, are found living in total darkness. Even without sunlight, life radiates from the depths of the earth.

Below and above ground, organisms depend upon one another. One of the key transformations in the history of life on earth was made possible by a mutually beneficial relationship between fungi and plants. Through mycorrhizal connections, fungi aided plant life in adapting to life on dry land. The formerly aquatic plants were still in the process of developing roots of their own, and the symbiosis with the fungal partners helped them in accessing mineral nutrients and water. In exchange, the plants gave carbohydrates to their fungal companions. This arrangement proved so helpful that even today 90 percent of land plants still maintain a tight relationship with mycorrhizal fungi.

In addition to transporting water and nutrients within ecosystems, the underground mycelial networks formed by fungi convey various chemical signals underground. Scientists have only recently begun to learn the secrets of these subterranean communication networks, sometimes referred to as the wood wide web.

Heikkilä’s works depict these symbiotic connections, the relationships that form between unrelated organisms. The webs, filaments, and rhizomes painted by Heikkilä form patterns of interdependency. They evoke questions about connectivity and collectivity. Beyond illustrating the intricate co-dependencies that make up the web of life, Heikkilä asks how it would be possible to better attune to the more-than-human ways of being and knowing, to the collaborative processes and entangled intelligences that might easily go unrecognised.



As an example, consider the acid-yellow slime mold Fuligo septica. Thanks to its looks, this amorphous organism is more commonly known as Scrambled egg slime or Dog vomit slime mold. “A pulsating yellow splat” is a befitting description of its appearance. But there is so much more than meets the eye: even without a centralised brain, this critter has turned out to be a master problem-solver. It often appears as a plasmoid organism, an aggregation of undifferentiated cells that apparently not only learns by becoming habituated to various stimuli, but it can also store “memories” and share its learnings with its fellow slime molds. These slime molds show a sort of collective intelligence that puzzles scientists and fuels the imaginations of artists. They have offered astonishing insights into the evolution of collective behaviour and learning. The research with slime molds has even encouraged some scientists to consider if a cell in itself could be a cognitive organism.

Heikkilä strives to develop and evoke not scientific but sensorial knowledge about bacteria, fungi, nematodes, and other poorly understood or underappreciated organisms that constantly recreate the basis of life, but whose collective activities remain largely hidden and unknown. Without their complex interactions, the earth would be uninhabitable for humans and many other animals. More importantly, plant and animal life as we know it would not have been able to evolve in the first place.

Heikkilä’s works often introduce a macro-scale which enables looking at these organisms in a new light and highlights that they have a far bigger role in planetary processes than their individual size indicates. Through the enlarged scale and unexpected compositions Heikkilä also makes a point that humans will never get the complete picture: life’s mysteries will always escape our perceptual capacities and systems of knowing.

A single spoonful of soil may contain a billion bacteria, a million fungi, and ten thousand amoebae. On a microscopic level you see: bear-shaped, six-legged tardigrades cantering through water droplets filled with single celled amoeba and bacteria, tiny nematodes (nearly microscopic and worm-like) flapping about in a larger stew of giant earthworms, centipedes, terrestrial crustaceans (more commonly known as sow bugs), pseudoscorpions, and mold mites, roaming through mini landscapes of boulder sized sand, silt, and smaller clay particles, all surrounded by a complex network of fungi mycelium that bridge communications between the rhizospheres of grass, herb, and tree roots extending into the dark underground.

Alma Heikkilä (b. 1984, Finland) is based in Helsinki, Finland. She graduated from the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts in 2009. Artworks made by Alma Heikkilä are often attempts to depict things that cannot be experienced through the human body and its senses. These things include microbial life forms that are too small to be consciously encountered in everyday life; the forest ecosystems where important processes are located underground and inside plants; and many large-scale phenomena that happen at such speeds and scales that they are beyond our comprehension.
Recent solo exhibitions of hers include Graz Kunstverein (Austria 2020), Kiasma (Finland, 2019), Casco Art Institute (Netherlands, 2018), Gallery Ama (Finland, 2017, and 2013) and EMMA (Finland, 2015). She has participated in group exhibitions at Malmö Art Museum (Sweden, 2020), Moss (Norway 2020), Art Encounters Biennial (Romania 2019), Fiskars Village Art & Design Biennale (Finland 2019), Tensta Konsthall (Stockholm, Sweden, 2018), Norrköpings Konstmuseum (Sweden, 2018), and at the Gwangju Biennale (South Korea, 2016). Her work is held in numerous public as well as private collections in Finland and Sweden. In 2014 she was awarded the Ducat Prize of the Finnish Art Society. Heikkilä is a founding member of the multidisciplinary Mustarinda collective - a group of artists and researchers whose goal is to promote the ecological rebuilding of society, diversity of culture and nature, and the connection between art and science.

, United States

Artworks made by Alma Heikkilä are often attempts to depict things that cannot be experienced through the human body and its senses. These things include microbial life forms that are too small to be consciously encountered in everyday life; the forest ecosystems where important processes are located underground and inside plants; and many large-scale phenomena that happen at such speeds and scales that they are beyond our comprehension.

In spite of their gravity/complexity/inpenetrability, Alma often returns to big questions like: What is life? What is it to be a human? What is a human? How does the body function together with other bodies and lifeforms? What does it mean to say that life in the biosphere is symbiotic? She seeks ways to articulate the deep dependencies of humankind.

In her work, Alma wishes to make space and time for wondering and digesting contemporary scientific perspectives. She does this mainly through developing painting and installation-based works with paint and plaster, which she understands as collaborations between her; the materials; and other artists and thinkers. She has developed techniques to allow the pigments and liquids to form images on surfaces, finding these images inspirational in ways she might not have imagined.

Given the planet is mired in several ecological crises that will enormously impact the future, Alma tries to foster different ways of working, acting, and thinking when approaching art through life and practice. This impacts how she makes decisions about working methods, materials (with an awareness around scarcity), and travel (for example, she endeavours not to fly).

These small beginnings are ways to acknowledge and work against dominant values embedded in the cultural field that deeply conflict with scientific knowledges about the current nature of our lives. One reason for the difficulties around reacting to environmental problems is that we don’t see our dependency on other life forms and processes. To support the necessary paradigm shift, one needs not just more information, but time, different forms, and spaces in which to collectively digest our interdependency on many other bodies and lives. Alma’s practice is one attempt to articulate and make space for pondering such transformations.

Alma is a founding member of Mustarinda, an association of artists and scientists. Their work and the time spent with the Mustarinda group has had an invaluable impact on her artistic practice.

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Milano, foro Buonaparte, 68

Tempesta Gallery was born in 2020, the year of potential change. With a declared mission, the gallery undertakes a direct and frontal dialogue on the relationships between human beings, Nature and the various socio-cultural ecosystems. The gallery proposes urgent and recurring themes that vary from the anthropocene to gender, faced with a unique way of co...

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