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Descriptive Audio: Anicka Yi in “Bodies of Knowledge”

June 23, 2023

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In Anicka Yi’s Brooklyn studio, the rhythmic bubbling of a deep fryer is interrupted by the crackling sound of batter-dipped flowers crispening in the hot oil. Drawn to their visual qualities and the distinct scent of fried foods, Yi began deep frying flowers in 2010, fixing them in a perpetual state of blooming and decay. Unorthodox, volatile, aromatic materials are a staple of Yi’s practice, using living matter like bacteria or worms, medical tools like ultrasound gel, and everyday substances like glycerin soap. Through her use of these materials, Yi embraces deterioration and impermanence, exploring how her works change and evolve. Speaking with Guggenheim conservator Esther Chao, the artist discusses her sculpture S.S.S. (2015), anticipating how the organic material will shrink over time, noting its sensitivity to dents and scores, and assuring Chao that these transformations are exactly what Yi intends.  

Yi’s studio operates much like a laboratory, developing hypotheses, testing them in small trials, and bringing in experts to help refine her ideas and bring them to life. To create the ‘aerobes’ that she released in the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern in London for In Love With The World (2022), Yi consulted software engineers and biologists, referencing ocean life and fungi in her designs, and programming each “aerobe” with a specialized artificial intelligence. “We have a very limited imagination when it comes to machines. We have a lot of anxiety that they will replace us,” says Yi, “but what if we could relate to them in a more optimistic way?” The artist’s floating machines create a sense of calm and awe, allowing visitors and the artist herself the opportunity to rethink our relationship with machines, and with the unknown.

Growing up in what she calls a “very pungent home,” Yi became aware at a young age of how certain smells are connected to identity. The associations that Western cultures hold towards smell are often negative, linking odor to being unhygienic or uncivilized. Yi problematizes this notion by engaging scent directly in her work. At a 2022 exhibition at the Pirelli HangarBicocca in Milan, IT, she installed the work New York’s a Bitch, But God Forbid the Bitch Divorce You (2014), for which she worked with French artist and perfumer Christophe Laudamiel to create two unique scents held behind two dryer doors installed in the walls of the exhibition hall. Both scents, Bullfrog and Divorce, remind viewers of the passage of time, forgetting, and letting go. Across her works, Yi balances perishability and permanence, recognizing the ways in which change and destruction are necessary components of monumentality and memory, and essential to human life. 

More information and credits


Executive Producer: Tina Kukielski. Series Producer: Nick Ravich. Director: Malika Zouhali-Worrall. Producer: Danielle Varga. Editor: Steven J. Golliday. Director of Photography: Naiti Gámez. Assistant Curator: Jurrell Lewis. Associate Producer: Andrea Chung. Design & Animation: Ryan Carl, Nikita Iziev. Composer: Andrew Orkin.

Additional Photography: Julia Liu, Jenni Morello, Mattia Ramberti, Brianna Wray. Assistant Camera: George Alvarez, Javier Castillo, Allen Dobbins, Sarah Jaffe, Todd Leatherman. Location Sound: Jim Choi, La’Ron Cooper, Damon Karys, Alberto Ladduca, Lily van Leeuwen, Taylor Roy, Emily Strong, Tommaso Zerbini. Field Producer: Ursula Liang. Production Coordinators: Sasha Leitmann, Arjun Pothuri. Production Assistants: Connor Finn, Kabir Kumar-Hardy, Quan Robinson, Gordon Taylor, Mishel Valle-Ayala. Art Handlers: Robert Guynn, Chris Rogy. 

Advising Proder: Ian Forster. Video Post-Production Services: Cut + Measure. Video Post-Production Producer: Alex Laviola. Colorist: Chris Ramey. Online & Conform: David Gauff. Additional Video Editor: Addison Post. Post-Production Coordinator: Leah Ford. Additional Animation: Andy Cahill, Yasmin Mistry. Audio Post-Production Sound Services: Konsonant Post. Re-Recording Mixers: Gisela Fullà-Silvestre, Ben Kruse. Sound Editor: Ben Kruse. Assistant Editors: Ellen Askey, Stephanie Cen, Michelle Hanks. Station Relations De Shields Associates. Legal Counsel: Withersworldwide. Additional Curatorial Research: Susan Thompson.

Additional Art21 Staff: Lauren Barnett, Hannah DeGarmo, Lolita Fierro, Joe Fusaro, Molaundo Jones, Emma Nordin, Anna Pruett, Jessica Svenson, Noor Tamari, Nora Wimmer. Interns: Stephanie Ades, Sekou Cherif, Yeon Cho, Michaela Esteban, Emma Flood, Amber He, Carina Martinez, Renee Rienecker, James Santiago, Adam Varca, Dani Wieder. 

Artwork Courtesy: Tauba Auerbach, Guerrilla Girls, Hank Willis Thomas, Anicka Yi, Paula Cooper Gallery, Jack Shainman Gallery, Gladstone Gallery, Anicka Yi, “Metaspore” at Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan, 2022. 

Archival Materials: Kelvin Adjei-Akosah, Agence France-Presse, Associated Press

Bettmann, Lance Brewer, David Briddell, Ron Cogswell, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University; Embrace Boston, Equal Justice Initiative , Estate of Ernest Cole, Getty Images, Great Voices of Bulgaria, The Guardian, Amy Harrison, Human Pictures, Hulton Archive, Library of Congress, Magnum Photos, MASS Design Group, The New Press, Steven Probert, Public Art Fund, SandenWolff, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Jon Santos, Katja Schulz, Davina Semo, Ted Shaffrey, Skyhorse Publishing, Clarissa Sligh, Damon Styer, Tate Modern, Temple University Press, Time Inc, TV1 Broadcast Company, Bulgaria; Richard Vogel, W. W. Norton & Company. 

Interviewees: Cleo Berliner, Esther Chao, Jonathan Evans, Coco Fusco, Sam Giarratani, Jasmine Guzman, Rujeko Hockley, Emily Majors, Muna Malik, Cameron Mesirow, Roberto Morales, Frances Morris, Sriranjini Raman, Samhita Ramji, Juan Rojero, Will Sylvester, Jawaid Toppa, Dr. Deborah Willis. 

Special Thanks: The Art21 Board of Trustees, Xabier Arakistain, John Felix Arnold, Art Gallery of Ontario, Joseph Becker, Bert Bergen, Olivia Berke, Alessandro Bianchi, Sanford Biggers, The Boston Foundation, Sandra Cane, Christina Caputo, Yu Rim Chung, Collection of the City of Boston, Allison Cooper, Christian Dioulo, Folasade Falebita, Jenny Gheith, Goodman Gallery, South Africa, Andy Greenberg, Remina Greenfield, Fiammetta Griccioli, Clara Hatcher Baruth, Imari Jeffries, Thomas Kelley, Rob Massey, Stacee Prigmore Monroe, National Memorial for Peace and Justice, A. Joaquin Navas, Negative Space, Devan Owens, Fernando Ramirez, Erik Savercool, Melissa Shakun, Vicente Todolì, Hana Tran, Saulius Valaitis, Walla Walla Foundry, The Wave Organ, Maria Wiles, Family of Hank Willis Thomas. 

Major underwriting for Season 11 of Art in the Twenty-First Century is provided by PBS, National Endowment for the Arts, Lambent Foundation, The Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Foundation, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, Toby Devan Lewis, Robert Lehman Foundation, and Nion McEvoy & Leslie Berriman.

Series Creators: Susan Dowling and Susan Sollins.

©2023 Art21, Inc.

Closed captionsAvailable in English, German, Romanian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Italian

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