Anicka Yi at Tate Modern: Why the Turbine Hall is in Love with the World

Installation view of "Hyundai Commission: Anicka Yi: In Love with the World". Photo by Will Burrard Lucas. Image courtesy of the artist and Tate Modern.
Anicka Yi at “Hyundai Commission: Anicka Yi: In Love with the World”. Photo by Ben Fisher. Image courtesy of the artist and Tate Modern.
Anicka Yi, We Have Never Been Individual (installation view), 2019, at Gladstone Gallery, Brussels, 2019. Image courtesy of the artist, Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels.
Anicka Yi, Biologizing The Machine (tentacular trouble), 2019, kelp, acrylic, animatronic moths, concrete, water, dimensions variable. Photo by Renato Ghiazza. Image courtesy of the artist, Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels, and 47 Canal, New York.
Installation view of “Hyundai Commission: Anicka Yi: In Love with the World”. Photo by Will Burrard Lucas. Image courtesy of the artist and Tate Modern.
Installation view of “Hyundai Commission: Anicka Yi: In Love with the World”. Photo by Will Burrard Lucas. Photo by Joe Humphrys. Image courtesy of the artist and Tate Modern.
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CoBo Social Design and Architecture

Anicka Yi’s aerobes float in the air above us at Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall in London. This latest Hyundai Commission is a multi-sensory experience of air and sea, making generous use of the cavernous space it inhabits. Nodding to Tate Modern’s industrial heritage, the intersection of machine and organic life has rarely been as rhythmic or as exquisite.

TEXT: Nicholas Stephens
IMAGES: Courtesy of various

 

Anicka Yi at “Hyundai Commission: Anicka Yi: In Love with the World”. Photo by Ben Fisher. Image courtesy of the artist and Tate Modern.

 

The scale of the cavernous Turbine Hall sets a puzzle for every artist. A former power station of vast, inhumanly industrial proportions, Tate Modern’s form resonates with its original purpose; certainly, no architect would have the visionary chutzpah to design an art gallery to look like this from scratch. There are temptations for artists to avoid in this monumental arena; where scale is an open invitation to become pompous or bombastic, to create works of Stalinesque grandiosity just because one can certainly requires a second, careful thought. Anicka Yi’s current show, “In Love with the World”, voids these pitfalls, launching a work of grace, elegance and life, harnessing every nook of the hall’s space, vertically and horizontally.

 

Anicka Yi, We Have Never Been Individual (installation view), 2019, at Gladstone Gallery, Brussels, 2019. Image courtesy of the artist, Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels.

 

Anicka Yi, Biologizing The Machine (tentacular trouble), 2019, kelp, acrylic, animatronic moths, concrete, water, dimensions variable. Photo by Renato Ghiazza. Image courtesy of the artist, Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels, and 47 Canal, New York.

 

Prior works such as We Have Never Been Individual (2019) have shown Yi to be an artist who can fill rooms with radiant subtlety. Her Biologizing The Machine (tentacular trouble) (2019) pinpointed an interest in the nexus of machine and organism. More specifically, in the Turbine Hall, she asks us to reflect on how machines may one day become indistinguishable from living beings.

 

Installation view of “Hyundai Commission: Anicka Yi: In Love with the World”. Photo by Will Burrard Lucas. Image courtesy of the artist and Tate Modern.

 

On entering the hall, two types of Zeppelin-like structures (titled aerobes) whir above us, dipping, diving, hovering and humming. South Korea-born, US-based Yi has christened these as xenojellies and planulae. The former are varihued, bulbous-headed and translucent, with supple, balletic limbs gently unfurling and closing beneath them; the latter are yellow, fuzzily-coated, potato-like creatures. Their flight is enabled by whizzing rotors and battery packs, and their AI ensures that they learn the room, simultaneously interacting with and avoiding surfaces and beings around them. Leaning over the gantry which links the Blavatnik Building with the more recent Boiler House, the visitor can look “behind the scenes” at mission control. Here, three technicians sit, DJ-like, behind a row of switches, nonchalantly preparing another xenojelly for launch, or checking a planula’s vital signs on a screen.

Whilst the aerobes inhabit the air, the xenojellies’ names and movements call to mind the marine. The salty tang of the sea is not absent either. Yi has worked extensively with smell, and advocated a reordering of the sensory hierarchy in its favour. The scents with which the artist is working this time are mere hints in the air, and alternate weekly throughout the three-month show. Attuned to their surroundings, the aerobes will change their behaviour in the midst of herbs used to combat the Black Death, or 20th century coal, or the smells of vegetation from the Cretaceous period.

The Bankside Power Station was decommissioned in 1981, but, thanks to Yi, its turbine hall is buzzing and singing with electrical impulses once more. In the intervening 40 years, humanity’s transition from the machine to the digital has been rapid. What will the next 40 years bring? The exponential increase in AI seems certain, as does increasing encounters between humans and highly intelligent machines. How many of these meetings will be transactional, mechanical and efficient, and how many will be laced with the emotional uncertainties and nuances of human interactions: awkward, unsettling, heartening and bracing?

 

Installation view of “Hyundai Commission: Anicka Yi: In Love with the World”. Photo by Will Burrard Lucas. Photo by Joe Humphrys. Image courtesy of the artist and Tate Modern.

 

The dilemmas and confusions of the future are ponderable when one returns home from Tate Modern. Standing in the midst of the Turbine Hall, the visitor is better advised to just feel the full immersion and eerie experience of the here and now. This is a chance to revel in quiet, reflective moments under the sea with the xenojellies, back in the marine environment from which all life sprang millions of years ago. “In Love with the World” is of our time and outside it, simultaneously pointing to life forces which are both pre-historic and yet to be invented.

 

Hyundai Commission: Anicka Yi: In Love with the World
12 October 2021 – 16 January 2022
Tate Modern, London

 

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