I wouldn’t recommend going to At Love With the World, Anicka Yi’s Hyundai Commission in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall, if you have even a little fever or a response to the flu shot. Her enormous flying cephalopods, with their long, squidlike arms swimming in the air, are homing in on human heat.
If not them, a second species of bulbous biomorphs, more children’s party than Hieronymus Bosch or Jules Verne, might draw you in by floating on the air currents, rising and sinking for no apparent reason. The transparent animals created by the Korean-born artist have the capacity to target the hot and sweaty, drawn by human warmth.
They are, however, taught to maintain a specific distance, similar to circus animals. They float off to a docking place at the back of the Turbine Hall every now and again to replenish their batteries.
Artificial intelligence, extraterrestrial life, and smellscapes molded in the air were all promised. And what do we receive as a result?
Heat-sensitive balloons propelled by drones. Yi’s helium-filled pond life is all a little ho-hum, no matter how realistic their invertebrate articulations are, since there are far too few of them to really surprise or menace.
Spices (formerly mistakenly thought to fend off the medieval Black Death), Precambrian era sea smells, ancient vegetable decomposition, and the stink of the Industrial Age, ozone, and coal smoke are also expected. I got a smell of armpit with a hint of Lynx Africa deodorant, but none of Yi’s olfactory artwork.
Maybe the smell-o-vision needs more time to warm up, or maybe the evocative smells are being muffled by our face masks. Maybe we should be thankful. California artist Mike Bouchet’s day’s worth of compressed human feces, which once filled a gallery building in Zurich, and Colombian artist Oswaldo Maciá’s fountain, which once filled a street in a Catalan village with the unmistakable tang of semen, sending the local cats into a frenzy, are two of the most memorable smell-based artworks I’ve ever encountered.
The ethereal and immaterial, the gravity-defying and the animatronic, all have a long history in art, and the Turbine Hall has seen its fair share of them. In his intricate Turbine Hall work, Philippe Parreno offered us a depleting school of helium-filled fish.
We had inside weather thanks to Olafur Eliasson. Ai Weiwei inadvertently contaminated the environment with ceramic dust, while Bruce Nauman filled the air with sounds (it was fun while it lasted).
For a long time, I’ve pondered who would be the first artist to pour Mother Thames into the Turbine Hall, although I guess Health and Safety would object. To make a difference, you need to go all out right now.
Yi’s work is a little too subtle.
But wait – just as the scents vary throughout the day, her human-engineered organisms, which she refers to as aerobes, seem to change their behavior over time. Will they get agitated or learn to breed?
Will they learn to curate, or produce their own art, in addition to procreating, or will they organize and take over in the classic pulp-fiction sci-fi manner? Will they exact revenge on the swarms of humanoids that have ravaged the planet?
Keep an eye on this. Keep an eye on any open area. They’re on their way.