Anicka Yi at the 58th Venice Biennale

Gaia Art Foundation, together with Bagri Foundation, has supported a new commission by the Korean-American artist Anicka Yi at the 58th Venice Biennale, “May You Live in Interesting Times”, curated by Ralph Rugoff. Titled Biologizing the Machine (terra incognita) and Biologizing the Machine (tentacular trouble) and shown across both Arsenale and Giardini exhibition sites, the new works contemplate how new channels of communication might be established between artificial intelligence entities and organic life forms.

In Biologizing the Machine (tentacular trouble), animatronic insects flutter within glowing sculptures resembling chrysalises, which have been constructed using stretched lengths of kelp. The ground beneath approximates a swamp (not dissimilar from the watery underbelly of Venice), from which these organisms may have emerged. Yi’s innovative use of kelp calls attention to both the ecological history and potential future uses of algae, a powerful, shapeshifting entity and the largest biomass on the planet.

For Biologizing the Machine (terra incognita), Yi has enclosed colourful Venetian soil within clear acrylic panels. Thanks to the inclusion of a specific bacteria, they emit a particular scent. The units change colour over time in accordance with alterations in temperature, light and water level, each of which is controlled by artificial intelligence. The AI entity learns to understand the smell of the bacteria in all its forms, amending the close environment in response to its stasis, decay and growth. The implications of this type of learning could be far-reaching, but as Yi’s display illustrates, even in controlled environments this process can bring about unpredictable results.

May You Live in Interesting Times” was on view at La Biennale di Venezia from 11 May – 24 November 2019.