Anicka Yi’s exhibition in Milan shows that art is very much alive

Intricate and multilayered creations push the limits of science and art.

Anicka Yi, Shameplex, 2015 (detail). Installation view at Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan, 2022. Agostino Osio

“I love Milan,” Anicka Yi tells me as she offers me a glass of white wine for a toast with the team at Pirelli HangarBicocca, moments after the end of the press preview of “Metaspore,” her latest exhibition project.

Ms. Yi looks very stylish in a printed Spring dress with baroque motifs and smiling faces here and there, that she paired with a sparkling necklace with golden pendants in the shape of keys, and shiny leather platform boots. “I bought it at Corso Como 10,” she says while reaching for her phone in her gray Balenciaga triangle bag. “In Milan, you have to shop, more than Paris.”

The toast is more than well-deserved. Together with Vicente Todolí, the artistic director of Pirelli HangarBicocca, and curator Fiammetta Griccioli, Ms. Yi presented a monumental project that started a year ago and has been postponed many times due to Covid-19.

“This is the best team in the art world,” she says. Her compliments for the Milan foundation are endless and heartfelt as she congratulates the many professionals that worked on the project.

The exhibition brings together more than twenty of works she has created over the last decade.

Yi is widely considered as one of the most forward-thinking and interesting personalities on the current art scene. She blends languages and ideas from several domains in her artistic activity, spanning from philosophy to biology, politics to science fiction.

The exhibition’s title is derived from the biological world: spores are cellular units that multiply and give rise to new living creatures without the need of sexual reproduction. This concept is symbolically tied to the Pirelli HangarBicocca show, which changes throughout time.

The exhibition focuses, on one hand, on the olfactory dimension with a series of works that feature scents, on the other hand, on works that explore biological processes such as decomposition and transformation.

She considers it a defining moment in her career: the decision to explore works from the past represents a moment of reflection and imagination about future developments in her practice, she reveals during the press conference.

An expanded and updated version of “Biologizing the Machine (terra incognita),” originally presented at the Venice Biennale in 2019, has been commissioned and produced for this occasion.

Continuing the artist’s ongoing research on bacteria, Ms. Yi and her studio collaborated with the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Milano-Bicocca University to create a new version.

Anicka Yi
Anicka Yi’s Biologizing the Machine (spillover zoonotica), 2022; commissioned and produced by Pirelli HangarBicocca for this occasion. Photo Agostino Osio.

Seven large glass display cases house a Winogradsky culture (named after the Russian microbiologist who invented this device for the development of microorganisms), a locally created ecosystem combining soil bacteria, cyanobacteria, and algae.

Through cycles of growth, stasis, and decay, the work evolves over time, reacting to the surrounding environment. The organisms change color and generate ‘suspended paintings’. “Almost like landscape photography. They are now visible,” Ms. Yi says.

The works change for the duration of the exhibition, and they are very much alive.

Hers are intricate and multilayered creations that push the limits of science and art, organic and synthetic. The project as a whole is an examination of the themes of metamorphosis, dependency, ecology, and symbiosis.

The show is designed as a ‘synesthetic and immersive journey,’ catalyzing visitors’ sensory and perceptual experiences using smells, perfumes, and biological elements.

Art becomes a central tool and a very-much-needed space for critical dialogue about ourselves and the world we inhabit. It presents answers to these turbulent decades and to the most important questions: what are we, and what does it mean to be alive.

Gianmaria Biancuzzi is executive editor of Milano Art Guide.