More often than not, the best way to experience an Anicka Yi sculpture is to sniff it. Seeing the odd materials that Yi often relies upon—tempura-fried flowers, luxury handbags, and sacs formed from kelp, to name just three—is but one way of experiencing them. Getting a whiff of them is another matter entirely. To smell Yi’s sculptures is to unfurl statements about feminist subversion, colonialist exploitation, and posthuman futures. In Yi’s world, vision is simply not enough.
Born in 1971 in Seoul, Yi got a relatively late start as an artist after working within the fashion industry. For the past decade and a half, she has been making memorable artworks that have famously contained olfactory effects. They have been amusing for their weirdness and thought-provoking for their suggestion of alternative forms of perception and existence, and they have won Yi top honors, including the Guggenheim Museum’s $100,000 Hugo Boss Prize in 2016, which came with an exhibition there the following year.
On Monday, Yi unveiled her latest project: “In Love with the World,” a series of floating sculptures commissioned for the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern in London. The sculptures, which Yi has termed “aerobes,” resemble extraterrestrial creatures and emit various scents, with some intended to recall spices once used to ward off the Black Death in the 14th century. With that show having just opened, below is a look back at five notable works by Yi.