Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan

Anicka Yi’s ‘Metaspore’

Words by Riccardo Conti

Exhibition view, Metaspore (2022)

With the dialogue between architecture, art and bacteria so intrinsic to the worldview of the late American artist Gordon Matta-Clark, it is no coincidence that the early works of this seminal artist focused on encounters between the organic and inorganic. In Agar (1969-70), Matta-Clark cultivated mould on large sheets of tin, combining red algae agar and water with various food substances: coconut milk, yeast, sugar, chocolate, sperm oil, juice and even the Yoo-hoo chocolate drink that the artist apparently enjoyed. In addition, the recipe also included various metals in the form of gold leaf, nails and thumbtacks. Matta-Clark ‘proliferated’ his work by having a colony of bacteria spontaneously modify the structure, after which he dried it and exhibited the results in June 1970 at Bykert Gallery, one of the most cutting edge galleries at the time in New York. Matta-Clark theorised the concept of ‘Anarchitecture’ as a poetic device, as well as recycling and garbage as an architectural form, resonating throughout the era as seen in German Artist HA Schult’s work Biokinetic (1972) presented at Documenta 5. In those years of feverish experimentation, Matta-Clark predicted the artistic potential of some of these practices that we are only truly able to comprehend years later. This evolution is exemplified by Anicka Yi, whose fascinating solo exhibition Metaspore develops elements of Matta-Clark’s thinking into her own autonomous language, fully transforming them into new artistic expressions.

Art, science and feminism are three integral themes that underscore Yi’s practice, who was a participant in the 58th Venice Biennale in 2019 and won the Hugo Boss Prize in 2016, in addition to being a contributor featured inside A#17 Curated By Eckhaus Latta. Yi utilises perfumes, A.I. technologies, chemicals and even living organisms such as snails, flowers and bacteria to engage in transformational processes that analyse the interconnections between living beings and the precarity of environmental balances.

Skype Sweater, 2010/2017

Curated by Fiammetta Griccioli and Vincente Todolí at Pirelli HangarBicocca, Yi’s new show offers recent and newly commissioned works, creating a multi-sensorial experience with novel smells and abstract images that recall various pictorial traditions, which highlight a consideration of art that goes beyond only visuality. Crossing the threshold of the ‘shed’ space, the visitor is confronted by a saccharine sweet odour, synthesised from the sweat of Asian women and a species of ants. A simple smell becomes an immaterial, non-visual, non-textual way to question the exploitation of Asian minorities, and women in particular. Metaspore is a large biome, made up of environments that are somehow interconnected. The motifs of spores, bacteria and viruses, which now pervade our post-pandemic existence like never before, seem to have already been anticipated in Yi’s works including Le Pain Symbiotique (2014) and 12 Synesthetic Crayons (2015). While drawing visual parallels to the architectural imagery of ephemeral hygiene-related bubble structures, Yi’s art does not possess any actual sanitary or protective function, but rather disseminates evocative fragrances in the surrounding space.

Le Pain Symbiotique, 2014

Le Pain Symbiotique, 2014 (detail)

Biologizing the Machine (spillover zoonotica), 2022

When Species Meet Part 2 (Vegetable Psychology), 2016

Metaspore is also, undoubtedly, an exhibition on colour. In Shameplex (2015), seven low plexiglass aquarium-like containers emit a bright green light – the chromatic vibration of a thick ultrasonic gel in which the artist has stuck dozens of metal pins – as if it were an alien breeding ground surveying the growth of future life forms. Colour is a language to be deciphered, appearing jarringly in Biologizing the Machine (2022), an installation with protuberant cases of soil samples collected in Milan to identify the various life forms that continue thriving inside. It exemplifies the critical stance (found in Matta Clark’s experiments) rebutting the static view of the history of art as a series of inert artefacts.

Anicka Yi ponders heavy questions. What happens when mankind, after irremediably altering the balance of life on planet Earth, ceases to be the centre of the world? What relationships can be recovered not only between humans, but all species that inhabit the planet? Her art embodies the concepts published in Donna Haraway’s fundamental essay Chthulucene, reminding us that everything is interconnected, everything is contaminated and everything concerns us.

Anicka Yi: Metaspore runs through July 24th, 2022 at Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan

Shameplex, 2015

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