An eco-quantizing artist, Anicka Yi (*1971) postures as a continental philosopher, descending into transcendental oceanic synthesis, and an analytic philosopher, focused on the nature of the proposition, literally and figuratively. “A Shimmer Through the Quantum Foam,” Yi’s first solo show at Esther Schipper, suspends large hybrid sculptures and algorithmically spawned paintings above an inky, prehistoric pool to ponder a theoretical framework predicting that particles of matter and antimatter are continually created and destroyed. Transforming the darkened gallery into animated marine lifeforms, she conceives an aesthetic petri dish of reciprocal relationships between humans, non-human organisms, and artificial intelligence that the artist herself might call artistic mutualism.
In nature, mutualism is a long-term interconnection between different species from which all species members benefit, as well as one class of symbiosis, a spectrum of biological relations that also includes parasitism and mimicry: Obligate or facultative, each party cooperates, regardless of their differences. This exchange materializes in Yi’s undulating, luminescent, semi-autonomous sculptures, evolving her notion of “biologized machines” – a term Yi coined for the 58th International Venice Biennale in 2019. Otherworldly, pellucid globules fill the room, their vibrations communicating with the nuclear matter of a human audience. Can quaking dialogue between machines and people reflect a new altruism? Can radiolarian cocoons dating from the Cambrian Period affect a symbiosis with the human species that is governed by compassion? Extending from the devices are crystalline tentacles that slowly move and emit subtle fiber-optic pulsations. Galvanic Quartz (all works 2023) and Nested Lung extend silica tendrils of PMMA optical fiber, LEDs, silicone, acrylic, epoxy, aluminum, stainless steel, steel, brass, motors, and microcontrollers.
Anicka Yi, ÖñK§LMñ†, 2023, acrylic, UV print, aluminum artist‘s frame 122 x 162.5 x 4 cm. All images © Anicka Yi. Courtesy: the artist, Gladstone Gallery, and Esther Schipper, Berlin/Paris/Seoul. Photo: Andrea Rossetti
Yi is not sending information “up in the air” so much as kicking it up like dust in the eyes of the audience so that they, too, can experience the warm, interrupted heartbeat of see-through machinery and return its energy in kind. These cellular fluctuations demonstrate Yi’s pursuit of reciprocity, tracing requited dialogue between the animate and inanimate. Rutilant, horizontal paintings were created through a machine-learning model, Yi working in exchange with an algorithm that dismantled and manipulated her previous work in unpredictable directions. Humans and artificial intelligence are in luminous metaphysical aesthetic action. Lynn Margulis, American microbiologist and apologist for the evolutionary gravity of symbiosis, says it better: “Life on earth is more like a verb. It repairs, maintains, re-creates, and outdoes itself.”
Yi signals further active biological compassion in her AI-generated paintings of incandescent aquatic ecosystems: animals, furry sun coral, zooplanktonic scales, algae, blurry dew drops, red sea whip, anemones, aurora-flooded starfish, and wild seahorses in microscopic phosphorescence. Striking colors quiver in acrylic-and-UV prints, LñRﬂRL and W†R§ñK, brightened by the five light-transmitting sculpture-microcosmoses networking with networks. Across the gallery floor lies a crater-like, rippling birthing pool, water frozen in time. Striking empathy between strains has precipitated primordial evolutionary gestures that change our concept of a family tree. Yi extends familial branches through multidimensional beings, sensate people, and insentient entities, holding one another up in the same dimmed gallery space. This is the story the artist tells, biologizing the machine and actively arranging jellyfish contraptions to reflect our true biotic reality. It’s at this interstice that Yi reworks the meaning of quantum foam: In her working definition, matter and antimatter are not the scientific examination of subatomic particles, but an argument for what matters. What subjects have substance for her, and what are their antitheses?
View of Anicka Yi, “A Shimmer Through the Quantum Foam,” 2023
Invisibly present throughout is an untitled scent evoking a primordial ocean, concocted by the artist in collaboration with the French perfumer Barnabé Fillion. The smell of the audience’s pheromones is buried by affairs of seaweed, musk, parsley, brown moss, and petrichor in an entangled, olfactory tête-à-tête (or sweat-à-sweat?). Like antimatter, the wafting fragrance collapses the exhibition’s three-dimensionality with its apparent non-dimension, its interruption of the audience’s focus on concrete sculptures and paintings itself a poetic ode to the flux of spacetime.
“Life on Earth is such a good story you cannot afford to miss the beginning …. Beneath our superficial differences, we are all of us walking communities of bacteria. The world shimmers, a pointillist landscape made of tiny living beings,” muses Margulis. Returning solicitude to the aesthetic arena through shimmering nature and AI, Yi reveals that mutualism, obligate or otherwise, is a strike toward compassion and, ultimately, our own evolution.
Anicka Yi, LñRþRL, 2023, acrylic, UV print, and aluminum artist‘s frame, 122 x 162.5 x 4 cm
“A Shimmer Through the Quantum Foam”
Esther Schipper, Berlin
15 Sep – 21 Oct 2023