Exhibition features more than twenty installations by Anicka Yi

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Exhibition features more than twenty installations by Anicka Yi
Anicka Yi, “Metaspore,” exhibition view, Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan, 2022. Courtesy the artist and Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan. Photo Agostino Osio.

MILAN.- From February 24 to July 24, 2022, Pirelli HangarBicocca is presenting “Metaspore,” a solo exhibition by Anicka Yi, one of the most innovative and engaging figures on the contemporary art scene. In her artistic practice, Yi combines languages and themes from many fields, ranging from philosophy to biology, from politics to science fiction.

The exhibition features more than twenty installations, multifaceted creations that dissolve the boundaries between science and art, organic and synthetic, and human and non-human—an investigation of the concepts of metamorphosis, interdependence, ecosystem, and symbiosis. The show catalyzes visitors’ sensory and perceptual experiences, through smells, mutating forms and disorienting biological elements.

The colored bacterial ecosystems in the work Biologizing the Machine (spillover zoonotica), 2021, exemplify this approach. Enclosed in large display cases and created in collaboration with the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences of the University of Milan-Bicocca, the work bears witness of the relation between art and science typical of Anicka Yi’s practice, while also dialoguing with the viewer through the mutations and reactions of its microorganisms to the surrounding environment.

Curated by Fiammetta Griccioli and Vicente Todolí, “Metaspore” brings together more than twenty works created by Anicka Yi (Seoul, 1971; lives and works in New York) over the last decade, and explores the approach taken by the Korean-American artist, characterized by the use of perishable and industrial materials in assemblages that defy the immutable nature of sculpture and installation.

The most comprehensive show ever presented of her work, “Metaspore” is conceived as a synesthetic and immersive journey. Starting with the artist’s first projects in 2010, focused on the research into tactile and olfactory materials, the exhibition’s narrative includes the many installations Yi co-created with different professional figures, such as architects, scientists and perfumers, investigating the most compelling issues today in the fields of technology and science.

The title “Metaspore” is inspired by the biological world: spores are the cellular units that reproduce and give rise to new living entities without the need for sexual reproduction. This concept is symbolically linked to the exhibition at Pirelli HangarBicocca, which transforms over time. It is the beginning of a new chapter in Yi’s career: the decision to explore works from the past represents a moment of reflection and imagination about future developments in her practice. The show focuses, on one hand, on the olfactory dimension with a series of works that include scents and, on the other hand, on works that explore such biological processes as decomposition and metamorphosis.

Visitors can access the exhibition space through a long corridor originally conceived for the artist’s solo show at the Kunsthalle Basel in 2015. Each side of the structure features a series of sculptures made from glycerin soap and bacteria enclosed and highlighted in illuminated display cases, as if holding precious objects. After passing through this diorama of contrasting concepts, like those of hygiene and contamination, visitors find themselves immersed in a dark space in which soft light is given off by the many installations and by a futuristic suspended environment. Along the exhibition path, viewers are confronted with many other works that make us reflect on the concepts of body, interdependence, ecosystem, and symbiosis.

Among the works is an expanded and updated version of Biologizing the Machine (terra incognita), originally presented at the 58th Venice Biennale in 2019, which has here been commissioned and produced for Pirelli HangarBicocca. Continuing the artist’s ongoing research on bacteria, Yi and her studio collaborated with the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Milano-Bicocca University to create a new version, titled Biologizing the Machine (spillover zoonotica), 2022. Seven large glass display cases house a Winogradsky culture (named after the Russian microbiologist who invented this device for the development of microorganisms), a locally created ecosystem combining soil bacteria, cyanobacteria and algae. Through cycles of growth, stasis, and decay, the work evolves over time, reacting to the surrounding environment: the organisms take different colors, generating “suspended paintings” that alter during the exhibition period.

Included in the show, Auras, Orgasms and Nervous Peaches, 2011, was created by the artist for her first solo show at 47 Canal gallery in New York. The piece appears as an empty, aseptic and ceilingless room with outer walls that ooze olive oil, triggering a shortcircuit between the inside and the outside, hinting at the fluids entering and exiting our bodies. While in Skype Sweater, 2010/2017, Yi examines the organic and political aspects of the body, using iconic materials from her visual lexicon, such as air, gel, and tempura-fried objects. The installation questions the exploitation of bodies, their relationship to the animal dimension and the consumer and capitalist lifestyle, using culinary techniques and referencing the basic ingredient of cosmetics: glycerin.

A sci-fi aesthetic permeates numerous works in the exhibition such as Shameplex, 2015, which is composed of seven Plexiglas vessels filled with ultrasound gel, in which metal pins gradually rust as a result of their contact with the glutinous substance. This futuristic dimension informs also the artist’s investigation of contemporary anxiety related to hygiene and contamination. Such fears were key features of “You can call me F,” a prominent 2015 exhibition held at The Kitchen in New York, whose main works are being exhibited at Pirelli HangarBicocca for the first time together since then. Originally created in the context of the Ebola epidemic, the five installations arranged in the center of the Shed resemble “quarantine tents”— structures with transparent PVC walls, each depicting geometric and abstract shapes suggesting biohazard signs.

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