Anicka Yi “Life Is Cheap”

Guggenheim Museum

poster for Anicka Yi “Life Is Cheap”

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Tower Level 5

An exhibition of new works by artist Anicka Yi, winner of the 2016 Hugo Boss Prize, will be on view at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Interweaving Yi’s ongoing study of microorganic forms, data collection, and sensory perception, this exhibition presents a densely layered examination of the intersecting systems—biological, social, political, and technological—that define our lives. Yi is the 11th artist to receive the biennial prize, which was established in 1996 to recognize significant achievement in contemporary art and which recently marked its 20th anniversary.

The Hugo Boss Prize 2016: Anicka Yi, Life Is Cheap is organized by Katherine Brinson, Curator, Contemporary Art, and Susan Thompson, Assistant Curator, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

Drawing on scientific concepts and techniques to activate vivid fictional scenarios, Yi’s installations ask incisive questions about human psychology and the workings of society. Yi uses unconventional materials to examine what she calls “a biopolitics of the senses,” or how assumptions and anxieties related to gender, race, and class shape physical perception.

For this exhibition, Yi worked with a team of molecular biologists and forensic chemists to create an installation in which natural and technological forces appear as surging, unruly forms that are nonetheless clinically contained. Visitors first pass through an entryway, or “holding pen,” where canisters emit a scent conceived by the artist. Yi has consistently sought to generate a sensory immersion that goes beyond visual experience, with an emphasis on smell and its potent link to memory and subjectivity. This aroma, titled Immigrant Caucus, combines chemical compounds derived from Asian American women and carpenter ants. Yi posits the scent as a drug that manipulates perception, offering humans the potential to experience the installation with a new, hybridized perspective.

The gallery’s central space features two opposing dioramas, each providing a view into a self-contained biosphere. The first, titled Force Majeure, is lined with tiles that hold a gelatinous substance called agar, on which the artist has cultivated various strains of bacteria sampled from sites within Manhattan’s Chinatown and Koreatown neighborhoods. This living composition also blooms across several sculptures inside the diorama, as if an invasive life force has overrun the environment. At the far end of the gallery, a second diorama, Lifestyle Wars, houses a colony of ants—insects that interest Yi because of their intricate division of labor and matriarchal social structure, as well as the sophisticated olfactory system that guides their behavior. The ants navigate a network of pathways that are reflected infinitely across mirrored surfaces, evoking a massive data-processing unit in which their industrious movement embodies the flow of information. The colony is exposed to the same hybrid scent that fills the entry corridor, creating the possibility of a shared psychic experience between ant and human.

Last October, Yi was selected as the winner of the 2016 Hugo Boss Prize from a short list of six finalists that included Tania Bruguera, Mark Leckey, Ralph Lemon, Laura Owens, and Wael Shawky. The 2016 jury comprised of Katherine Brinson; Dan Byers, Mannion Family Senior Curator, Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston; Elena Filipovic, Director and Chief Curator, Kunsthalle Basel; Michelle Kuo, Editor in Chief, Artforum International; and Pablo León de la Barra, Guggenheim UBS MAP Curator, Latin America, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. The jury described their decision in a statement: “In recognition of the milestone 20th anniversary marked by this year’s prize, we carefully considered the spirit of the project over the past two decades and the innovatory achievements represented by the list of past recipients. In selecting Anicka Yi as the winner from an exceptionally strong group of nominated artists, we wish to highlight the singularity of her vision and the generative new possibilities for artistic production offered by her practice. We are particularly compelled by the way Yi’s sculptures and installations make public and strange, and thus newly addressable, our deeply subjective corporeal realities. We also admire the unique embrace of discomfort in her experiments with technology, science, and the plant and animal worlds, all of which push at the limits of perceptual experience in the ‘visual’ arts.”

This exhibition is made possible by HUGO BOSS.
Force Majeure and Lifestyle Wars were developed in consultation with Frank A. Cusimano, Harris Wang Lab, Ph.D. candidate in nutritional and metabolic biology, Columbia University, New York; M. Hunter Giese, Wayne Hendrickson Lab, Filippo Mancia Lab adjunct member, Ph.D. student in physiology and cellular biophysics, Columbia University, New York; and Ross McBee, Virginia Cornish Lab, Harris Wang Lab, Ph.D. candidate in biological sciences, Columbia University, New York.

The scent component of Immigrant Caucus was developed in consultation with Barnabé Fillion, Paris; Veronique Nyberg, MANE, Paris; Sean Raspet, Air Variable, Los Angeles; and Dr. Kenneth G. Furton, Ph.D., Provost and Executive Vice President, Florida International University, Miami.



from April 21, 2017 to July 05, 2017


Anicka Yi

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