At Tate Modern, Anicka Yi’s whimsical floating robots challenge what’s natural


Yi, who was born in Seoul and now lives in New York City, is best known for her perfume-based artwork. In 2015, after a confirmed case of Ebola in New York City caused widespread panic, Yi created an installation at The Kitchen in Manhattan that explored our relationship to smell and its links to gender. Gathering swabs from the mouths and vaginas of 100 women in her network, Yi grew the bacteria accumulated in petri dishes and analyzed the scent molecules to produce a scent that was released throughout the exhibition space. . The work was an apology for the smelly, the perishable and the impermanent. An extension of this practice, In love with the world is both a celebration of the senses and a joyful and utopian vision of the coexistence between humans and machines.

Shortly after becoming its director, Frances Morris describe Tate Modern as “a university with an attached playground”. Yi’s display perfectly captures this fusion of academic and recreational. His whimsical creatures float like balloons at a children’s birthday party, while making a serious intellectual commentary on ecology, society, technology, and our collective future. As I stood and watched them make their algorithm-determined paths, I observed how nearly all of my fellow spectators were documenting the experience on their iPhones. This behavior fits with Yi’s worldview – whether we like it or not, machines are part of our reality and, in many ways, extensions of our very bodies.

About Julius Southworth

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