Category Archives: painting

Alma Heikkilä opens up our eyes to the invisible worlds we depend upon

We might not be as human as it seems. Human cells make up only 43% of the body’s total cell count. The rest are bacteria, viruses, fungi, archaea and other microscopic organisms that colonize both the inside and outside of our bodies and form the human microbiota.

Even though we are not conscious of it, this microbial material affects our mental and physical well-being in ways science has only just started exploring. The microorganisms facilitate digestion, regulate the immune system, protect us against disease and manufacture vitamins. We live in such inter-dependency with our microbiome that some talk about holobionts, making us an assemblage of a host plus the resident microbes that inhabit it.

Alma Heikkilä. Kiasma Commission by Kordelin 2019. Installation view at Kiasma. Image courtesy the artist

Alma Heikkilä, Warm and moist | decaying wood (detail.) Photo: Petri Virtanen / Finnish National Gallery

Artist Alma Heikkilä wants us to open up our eyes to a world without which our world wouldn’t exist. It’s not just about the microbiome. She finds these imperceptible worlds everywhere. Where we only see a decaying log of wood, she sees a hot spot for insects and fungi. Where we see dirt and soil under our feet, she senses a vast universe of creatures that communicate and keep the underground and the overground alive. We know we breathe oxygen in, she knows we inhale also other gases, airborne bacteria, fungi as well as all kinds of pollutants.

Heikkilä wants us to become more sensitive to all the micro-organisms we overlook, either because microbiological elements are difficult to experience with our sole human senses or because Western culture has made us too individualist to give much consideration to species other than our own. Beyond these microscopic creatures, her work also touches upon other subjects that lie beyond human sensory perception, not as a result of their tininess but because they out-size us. They are massively distributed in time and space and are what environmental philosopher Timothy Morton calls “hyperobjects“. Global warming is the most famous of these hyperobjects. Just like microorganisms, they exceed our human apprehension but we can’t keep on ignoring the powerful interdependence between them and us.

Alma Heikkilä, Primary sensory interface with the external world, 2017. Image courtesy the artist

Alma Heikkilä, Primary sensory interface with the external world (detail), 2017. Image courtesy the artist

Heikkilä uses painting to address the necessity to acknowledge the importance of nonhuman life and our symbiotic relationship to it. The difference of scale between the ultra-small organisms and the hyperobjects she investigates is reflected in the composition of the paintings. The size of her works is overwhelming and forces you to take a step back but their visual details and material qualities draw you closer.

Her concern for these invisible forms of life is reflected in the critical examination of her own artistic practice. Heikkilä carefully assesses the impact the materials she wants to use might have on ecosystems, for example. She shuns planes and travels with ‘slow’ transportation only. She even bought 11 hectares of forest, not to use as a resource for her own work but to ensure that it continues being a habitat for biodiversity and acts as a carbon sink for any strain her activities has on ecosystems. Directly or indirectly. This might seem charming to many but her efforts put to shame all the artists, curators and reporters who explore the topic of the anthropocene with much gravitas but don’t think twice before taking a taxi or a plane instead of perfectly convenient public transport systems. It’s going to be interesting to see how working processes like hers will influence the way the art world operates.

The artist has just opened a show at Kiasma in Helsinki that defies anthropocentrism and gives visibility to the various processes of multispecies companionship. Each of her painting installation is like a microcosm of entities that coexist, combine and interact.

Another fascinating element of the exhibition is the way it challenges museum conventions. Heikkilä urged curator Satu Oksanen to consider opening up the usually carefully-controlled exhibition space to a natural element: light. Natural light now floods the space, coming from a sky light and a large window. Light is thus another participant to the show. Depending on the time of your visit in Kiasma, your eyes will have to adjust more or less to its intensity (artificial lights will be turned on if it ever gets too dark to experience the exhibition though.)

Alma Heikkilä. Kiasma Commission by Kordelin 2019. Installation view at Kiasma. Image courtesy the artist

Alma Heikkilä. Kiasma Commission by Kordelin 2019. Installation view at Kiasma

Alma Heikkilä. Kiasma Commission by Kordelin 2019. Installation view at Kiasma. Image courtesy the artist

Alma Heikkilä is the second recipient of the Kiasma Commission by Kordelin, a project that aims to provide international exposure for one selected Finnish artist. The project is funded by the Alfred Kordelin Foundation which supports the sciences, literature, the arts and public education in the country with grants and awards. Helsinki-based Maija Luutonen was the first recipient of the Kiasma Commission by Kordelin.

Through this commission, Heikkilä receives the support of the Kiasma staff, has been commissioned new works and has gained visibility but she also got a chance to collaborate with Elina Minn. The dramaturge will invite the public to join workshops that explore cellular consciousness inside Heikkilä’s show at Kiasma. Titled Somanauts – Workshops for experiential anatomy, the one-hour sessions are ‘undoing’ practices that enable participants to focus on experiencing the world inside their body.

Alma Heikkilä, soil ~ minerals mixing with the living (detail). Photo: Petri Virtanen / Finnish National Gallery

Alma Heikkilä, soil ~ minerals mixing with the living. Photo: Petri Virtanen / Finnish National Gallery

I didn’t know the work of artist and activist Heikkilä before visiting her show in Helsinki. But i did know about Mustarinda, the collective of artists and researchers she co-founded a few years ago. The goal of Mustarinda is to combine scientific knowledge and experiential artistic activity in order to lay out a path towards a post-fossil culture. Check out their residency calls if you’re interested in their work and fancy spending time in an isolated house with a lovely garden at edge of the Paljakka Nature Reserve in Finland.

Alma Heikkilä. Kiasma Commission by Kordelin was curated by Satu Oksanen. The exhibition remains open at Kiasma in Helsinki until 28 July 2019.
Check out this page for information about Somanauts – Workshops for experiential anatomy with Elina Minn. /blockquote>

Shoot the Women First

“Shoot the women first!”, a German official is reported to have advised in the 1980s when members of GSG-9, Germany’s elite anti-terror squad found themselves in front of a large group of people suspected of being terrorists. Eileen MacDonald used the order as the title of the study of female terrorists she wrote in 1991. Navine G. Khan-Dossos, in turn, borrows it for an exhibition that looks at the theme of female targets.

Navine G. Khan-Dossos at Z33 House for Contemporary Art. Photo: Kristof Vrancken Photography and Research

Navine G. Khan-Dossos painted in pink one of the walls at the entrance of Z33 House for Contemporary Art. Photo:

For Shoot the Women First, her solo exhibition at Z33 in Hasselt, the artist recreated a shooting range. Paintings in soft colours are hanging on the wall and from the ceiling. The first ones you encounter carry symbols similar to the type of targets used in Discretionary Command training. During those police and military trainings, shooters receive a chain of commands which require them to shoot at triangles, circles and squares of various colours in a certain order.

As you walk through the exhibition space, the reference to a body become less abstract and you soon recognize human shapes on the paintings. The exhibition is choreographed so that your body comes in close proximity of the targets, making the experience feel somewhat ominous and almost visceral.

Navine G. Khan-Dossos, Pink Discretionary Command, 2018 at Z33 House for Contemporary Art. Photo: Kristof Vrancken Photography and Research

Navine G. Khan-Dossos, Pink Discretionary Command, 2018 at Z33 House for Contemporary Art. Photo: Kristof Vrancken Photography and Research

Navine G. Khan-Dossos, Pink Discretionary Command, 2018 at Z33 House for Contemporary Art. Photo: Kristof Vrancken Photography and Research

All the works in the series feature the colour pink. Not any type of pink but the particular shade of pink used to paint the doorways of brothels in the Metaxourgeio neighbourhood of Athens.

The area was the theater of police brutality against women in 2012 when a group of drug-users were arrested and forced to undergo HIV tests. It was assumed that the women were prostitutes. They were imprisoned on charges of grievous bodily harm for transmitting the virus through sex work. Most of these women had never worked as prostitutes and were not even aware they were HIV-positive. The violence towards them didn’t end there. The police published their mug-shots and personal data on their website and the images spread from there to major TV channels and other media. Eventually the charges were dropped, but some of these women struggled to recover from this experience of incarceration and public shaming.

Navine G. Khan-Dossos, Grey Discretionary Command, 2018 at Z33 House for Contemporary Art. Photo: Kristof Vrancken Photography and Research

Navine G. Khan-Dossos, Grey Discretionary Command, 2018 at Z33 House for Contemporary Art. Photo: Kristof Vrancken Photography and Research

Being diagnosed with HIV meant that, for the authorities, the body of these women epitomized deviance and bio-terrorism. They were both a danger and a target, both victims of society and perpetrators of sexual disorder. The colour pink in the paintings is thus not one that evokes innocence and romanticism but violence, violation of privacy and HIV criminalization.

Khan-Dossos managed to give a presence to these women without ever using the humiliating mugshots that had been shared online and in the Greek mainstream media.

Shoot the Women First demonstrates that it is possible to use abstract forms to convey a poignant narrative, to talk about violence without using explicit images. Perhaps, that’s the smartest way to do it now that images of violence are so commonplace online that we barely register them.

The work doesn’t address only the fate of these women but also the one of other marginalized bodies. The pink triangles in some paintings allude to the rise of AIDS activism, and in particular ACT UP’s SILENCE = DEATH posters. The work also refers to the militarization of the US police and their use of lethal weapons against civilians. And in general, the harassment of women worldwide which, as recent stories like the Ligue du LOL in France and the Spanish far-right parties pushing back against gender equality indicate, shows no sign of abating. Not even in 21st Century EU.

While writing this review, i also couldn’t stop thinking about 19 year old Shamima Begum. In 2015, she was an English schoolgirl who left her family to join the so-called Islamic State. We don’t know whether she committed crimes while in Syria. The United Kingdom has nevertheless decided to revoke her citizenship and the young woman now sits in a Syrian refugee camp with her newborn son. A few days ago, a shooting range in north-west England has made headlines for using a photo of her face as a target, following “a large number of requests from customers.”

Navine G. Khan-Dossos, Bulk Targets 1-100, 2018. Opening at Z33 House for Contemporary Art. Photo: Kristof Vrancken Photography and Research

Navine G. Khan-Dossos, Bulk Targets 1-100, 2018. At Z33 House for Contemporary Art. Photo: Kristof Vrancken Photography and Research

One room features heaps of gouaches on cardboard, ‘Bulk Targets 1-100’. The shape and number also refer to the target models for training. The vast number of these works on a humble material suggests their throw-away use, the sheer banality of violence. On the other hand, they also hint at the possibility that we can make them ours and train as an army that would fight against the demonization of vulnerable people.

The exhibition also features one of Khan-Dossos’ motifs: a standard forensic ruler that runs the walls of the exhibition rooms and transforms the gallery into a crime scene. Crime investigators use forensic rulers to facilitate photographic documentation of evidence at crime scenes. Its title, Below the Belt, evokes not only the unfair and slightly cowardly practices that often accompanies gender politics but also the physical and metaphorical site of domestic violence and control.

Navine G. Khan-Dossos, Silent Latitude (detail) and Below the Belt (detail), 2018 at Z33 House for Contemporary Art. Photo: Kristof Vrancken Photography and Research

Navine G. Khan-Dossos, Silent Latitude, 2018 at Z33 House for Contemporary Art. Photo: Kristof Vrancken Photography and Research

Navine G. Khan-Dossos, Silent Latitude, 2018. Opening at Z33 House for Contemporary Art. Photo: Kristof Vrancken Photography and Research

Navine G. Khan-Dossos, Silent Latitude (detail), 2018 at Z33 House for Contemporary Art. Photo: Kristof Vrancken Photography and Research

The last work Khan-Dossos is showing in Hasselt is Silent Latitude. This new commission is part of the other exhibition you can visit now at Z33: Dissidence – Quilting Against. Silent Latitude is a quilt designed together with the members of the Greek Trans Support Association in Athens and embroidered with the help of MIA-H Fashion Incubator for Accessories in Hasselt. This “community-made textile” evokes the value of collective labour as a healing and bonding activity, referring to the Beguines, laywomen from the urban middle class who lived together in domestic spaces (such as the ones that house Z33 exhibition spaces), supporting themselves with their labor, outside of male control and without submitting to monastic rule.

Ending the show with the quilt lifts up the spirits. The work points to a more hopeful humanity, one that relies on solidarity to create, defy and resist.

Navine G. Khan-Dossos – Shoot the Women First was curated by Silvia Franceschini. Dissidence – Quilting Against was curated by Ronald Clays. Both exhibitions remain open until 26 May at Z33 – House for contemporary art in Hasselt, Belgium.

Photos of the opening ‘Shoot the Women First’ & ‘Dissidence’.
India Doyle did a fascinating interview with Navine G. Khan-Dossos for Twin back when the artist was showing the first iteration of Shoot the Women first at The Breeder gallery in Athens. Also worth your time: Ruins – Chronicle of an HIV witch-hunt, a documentary directed by Zoe Mavroudi about the women victims of HIV criminalization in Athens.

Previously: Painting on and painting off ISIS propaganda.

Painting on and painting off ISIS propaganda

Navine G. Khan-Dossos, Expanding and Remaining

Very few of us would have heard of Dabiq, a town of over 3000 inhabitants in northern Syria, were it not for the magazine of the same name published by Islamic State (Isis) as part of its propaganda and recruitment arsenal. The town was symbolically crucial for Isis because of a prophecy that it would one day be scene of the final victory of Muslims over non-believers. Last year, ISIL was driven out of the town by the Turkish military and Syrian rebels. The online magazine is now called Rumiyah, the Arabic word for Rome and a reference to an Islamic prophecy about the conquest of Rome.

Navine G. Khan-Dossos‘ painting series Expanding and Remaining is looking at the Dabiq magazine under a whole new perspective. Eschewing the indoctrinating articles and apocalyptic illustrations, the artist stripped back the pages of their content and laid bare the main graphic composition of its layout. The pages of the english-language PDF magazine are turned into a series of geometric panel paintings (and also turned back into a PDF format.) The colours are flat, the strokes of gouache are bold and the imprecise forms are miles away from the glossy pixelated images that characterize on-screen and printed material. All that survives from the textual content of the magazine are the titles of the paintings, each of them drawn from the magazine articles. Some innocuous, other more sinister: Demolishing The Grave of the Girl, Foreword, The Hadd of Stoning, Erasing The Legacy of a Ruined Nation II, The New Coins, etc.

Navine G. Khan-Dossos, series Expanding and Remaining, 2016

The effect of the transformation process is surprising: a sense of familiarity with the structure arises, you start seeing the edges, the imperfections and the human touch.

Several of Khan-Dossos‘s Expanding and Remaining paintings are currently on view at the Fridman gallery in New York as part of Evidentiary Realism, an exhibition that attempts to articulate a particular form of realism in art that portrays and reveals evidence from complex social systems, with prioritizing formal aspects of visual language and mediums.

Navine G. Khan-Dossos, Strange Bedfellows, from the series Expanding and Remaining, 2016

Hi Navine!Could you take us through process of obfuscating the text and revealing the underlaying visual propaganda of a magazine page like Dabiq?

I spend some time with the magazine, leafing through the pages (digitally), trying to concentrate on the layouts, where the text columns lie, where the images are placed. I tend not to read the content if I can. I used to, but I found it clouded the process of analyzing the designs. I then pull the original PDF into Photoshop and create shapes of colour over the content, to preserve the composition but lose the details. It’s the first step in the process of abstraction of the subject and towards painting. As you say, there is a process of obfuscation involved but not of censorship. The blacking out isn’t a means of muting the voice of the author of Dabiq, but to raise the volume of the designer.

How do you chose the pages you are going to intervene on? How do you select the colours, etc?

The process is intuitive as well as informative. I tend to be drawn towards pages with strong visual elements, such as graphs, strange layouts, photos with strong graphic elements, or other pages that catch my eye because of a peculiar design. I also pay attention to the subject of the article, especially if it reflects a story well know to a western audience, such as the continuing capture of John Cantlie, or the last words to camera of James Foley. These subjects are given a lot of space in the publication as it is aimed at a western readership and will know their stories from media coverage.

I work with a strict colour palette of Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black, Re, Green and Blue. These are the colours of print and the screen. By combining them, I try to find that grey area of the publication that is designed to be printed but only ever appears as a digital file. I then pick the closest colour to that I find on the page from my refined palette. Sometimes the combinations can be surprising and strangely revealing too.

Navine G. Khan-Dossos, If I Were The US President Today (John Cantlie) I, 2016

Navine G. Khan-Dossos, If I Were The US President Today (John Cantlie) II, 2016

How much does the result of your intervention strictly reflect what is already there and how much do add maybe, or change?

The aim of the work is to try to stay as true to the original layouts as possible. It’s a documentation as well as a painting in its own right. If I make changes, it tends to be in the colour rather than the composition. I like the journey that it takes me on if I consistently follow the lines drawn by the designer. It is like copying someone else’s hand. It challenges my senses to inhabit the work of someone else and try to translate that. If my authorship lies anywhere, it is in the language of the brushstrokes.

Navine G. Khan-Dossos, Remaining and Expanding, 2016. View in the exhibition Command: Print at NOME in Berin

I was looking at Dabiq on google images and some of the images saddened me. How did you approach the kind of content, either purely visual or textual, of Dabiq without feeling drawn into the propaganda? Without letting your artistic process be too influenced by the kind of emotional reaction the text and images may trigger?

It is a very saddening experience and also a shocking one too. I have been working with this material for a couple of years now, and it has been an ongoing process of how to manage my own personal relationship with these images. I refuse to perpetuate the content by reproducing it, which is why I concentrate on the form rather than the content. I have ways of looking at the magazines that lessen my contact with disturbing content, such as reducing the scale the PDFs so I can only see the basic forms, scrolling quickly through the issues, even sometimes blurring my vision to be able to focus on the compositions. But it is inevitable that I will see things I would rather not. But it’s part of the work, and the emotional response, the whole spectrum of feelings I go through, are part of that process. I let myself cry if I need to, be angry, confused, shocked. But I also recognize how alluring this content can be for some people and recognize that pull too. I’m not here to pass judgement, I’m here to find some way of understanding for myself, a politics and culture of violence that has been present throughout my time working as an artist since 2001. It has always been my subject.

How important are the titles of each piece? Are they mere reference to texts found in the original page or are they meant to suggest other messages and interpretations?

Each painting title is taken directly from the article title or keys words on the page. The title acts as a key to the painting. It’s there as a link to the original content, but I never suggest that it is required to dig deeper than the surface of the painting to better understand it. Everything that is necessary is there already.

Navine G. Khan-Dossos, Top Ten Al Hayat Videos, 2016

The result of your intervention on the pages is quite abstract. Which kind of meaning can the viewer extract from these works when they leave the exhibition?

I think the key to this question is the word ‘abstract’. I tend not to think of my work within this context especially in western art history. The works are absolutely based on visual references in the real world: they do not diverge from their subject matter. It is clear that the painting shows information, but that it has been rendered into blocks that retain the design but not the content. The paintings are about the nature of information itself.

What I found fascinating about the Expanding and Remaining series is that it provides us (the Western audience) with a very different, less visceral perhaps and more reflective way of looking at Isis propaganda. But do you feel that some of us might also be tempted to interpret and maybe also reduce everything as being inherently ‘political’ because of the ISIS topic, for example? Is this something that preoccupies you when it comes to communicating your work?

The work is inherently political, there is no way of side-stepping that and I wouldn’t want to. I think the issue is that painting isn’t often seen as a medium that can handle and communicate this kind of content and subject matter.

We are so used to digital content being the medium of this kind of research-based and investigative work. Painting is a tool that lets me take all of that research and transform it through an entirely different set of values; those of paint. It is not just a retelling or re-presenting of the material. It is a new form derived from that content, that exists independently of its origin.

It is less visceral, but that doesn’t make the experience of it necessarily less painful or uncomfortable. It’s just that it relies on the fact that the viewer knows what the content it already because they have been bombarded by it in the media. The politics of the work is already embedded in the mind of the viewer, with all its bias, fear and incomprehension. The paintings provide a space of recall, a place to realize how much we have already been exposed to.

Navine G. Khan-Dossos, Yilmaz, Where Is Aïcha? (from the series Studies for Sterlina), 2015

Navine G. Khan-Dossos, The Messenger and the Message (Recto), 2015

Any other upcoming work, field of research and concerns, or events you are currently working on?

As a follow-up to the work I am presenting as part of Evidentiary Realism, I will have a solo show at Fridman Gallery in April that will present the entire series of Expanding and Remaining, alongside a new series of twelve paintings called Infoesque. These new works are based on pages from Rumiyah magazine that has replaced Dabiq in recent months. The paintings focus more directly on the use of Islamic art motifs and data/statistical visualizations in the magazine, and seeing how these two forms fuse together to present an ‘authoritative’ visual language for the brand of ISIS at a time when it is undergoing heavy military losses.

I am also working on a large-scale wall painting project at the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven (NL) called Echo Chamber, that is based on Samantha Lewthwaite, the so-called White Widow currently in hiding in East Africa.

Thanks Navine!

Several of Navine G Khan-Dossos’s Expanding and Remaining paintings are included in Evidentiary Realism, a group show curated by Paolo Cirio and presented by NOME Gallery + Fridman Gallery. The show is at the Fridman Gallery until 31 March, 2017.

Also part of Evidentiary Realism: Proceed at Your Own Risk. Tales of dystopian food & health industries.

Twilights: New Ink Paintings on Vintage Books by Ekaterina Panikanova

Celestial phenomena, 2014, books, wood, nails, ink, acrylic, cm210x260.

Impersonal verbs, 2014, books, wood, nails, ink, acrylic, cm 130×110; In my garden flowered a rose, 2014, books, nails, wood, inks, acrylic, cm 210×150.

Box n°86, 2014. Books, inks, wood panel, nails, ink, acrylic, cm 76,5×55.

Untitled, 2014. Old and vintage books, inks, nails on wood panel, cm 200×143.

Pars particularis, 2014, books, wood, nails, ink, acrylic, cm 140×120; Aux sages-femmes, 2014, books, wood, nails, ink, acrylic, cm 130×110.

Errata Corrige #2234, 2013. Vintage book, inks, nails on wood panel; cm 130×110. Private Collection.

Artist Ekaterina Panikanova (previously) recently opened her third solo show at Sara Zarin Gallery in Rome featurning a number of ink and acrylic paintings on grids of vintage books. Reflecting the age of the books, Panikanova creates imagery suggesting aspects of memory or old snapshots commingled with illustrations of birds, antlers, baked goods, and lace. To compliment the installations she also created a number of glass and lead pieces you can see here. The exhibition, titled Crepuscoli (Twilights), runs through February 7th.