Artist: Anicka Yi
Venue: Kunsthalle Basel
Exhibition Title: 7,070,430K of Digital Spit
Date: June 12 – August 16, 2015
Full gallery of images, press release and link available after the jump.
Images courtesy of the artist and Kunsthalle Basel. Photos by Philipp Hänger.
What does forgetting look like? Smell like? Anicka Yi’s exhibition 7,070,430K of Digital Spit takes the attempt to forget not so much as a subject or a theme, but as an aesthetic operation. The show is a coda to Yi’s last few years of intense artistic production. That production was built around perishable substances (tempura-fried flowers, recalled powdered milk, monosodium gluta- mate crystals, snail excretions) juxtaposed with their opposites (seemingly indestructible plastics, steel pots, chrome dumbbells) and often embedded within glycerin, resin, or hair gel. Her combinations testify as much to her adventurous chemical experimentation as to the psychological charge (desire, longing, loss) she imbues things with.
Denial, Divorce, Death: these were some of the ominous titles of Yi’s past shows, each one confronting the pursuit of what the artist calls “the forensics of loss and separation.” In the works, things slowly cooked, rotted, melted, or even dripped grease down the gallery walls. This staging of perishability, metabolism, and entropy is intimately connected to the artist’s idea of the self as it is transformed by increasingly digital technologies.
Yi now returns to that past as if to exorcise it. She started by devising a scent to evoke exactly that ineffable process she was seeking: forgetting. Working in collaboration with a French perfumer, she approached the design of the smell from the perspective of the absence of memory— specifically a fetus in an amniotic sac. She then added to the narrative visions of an Alzheimer’s patient surrounded by the metallic, sterile smells of hospital beds, medication, and despair. As Yi recounts, “The smell of forgetting is also an imagined apocalyptic end when all memory is eradicated.” It is, in other words, the death of history.
It was a renegade artistic gesture on Yi’s part to take her very first monograph and reprint it as 7,070,430K of Digital Spit, A Memoir, on handmade incense paper impregnated with her newly concocted smell of forgetting. She invites you to literally burn the book after reading it, thereby releasing the embedded fragrance while destroying this important first overview of her production. After all, what better way to erase the memory of a past oeuvre than to stage its auto-da-fé?
But if memory is to be truly eradicated, one must also confront it physically and dissect it materially. The show 7,070,430K of Digital Spit is an attempt at that. Yi sought to reckon with the last five years—her production since 2010, and the five shows that featured it—by projecting it and exorcising it here at Kunsthalle Basel. Even arriving at the show’s title was an exercise in numerological voodoo: she multiplied the title of one of her very first works from 2010, 235,681K of Digital Spit (a transparent PVC and leather Longchamps ladies’ handbag filled with hair gel and a cow’s stomach), with the sum of five (past years) times five (past shows) plus five (spaces of this new show at Kunsthalle Basel).
The exhibition is entirely composed of new works, but each bears a slight resemblance to, or slyly references, a previous piece. Just as memory warps, resizes, and reshapes things in the haze of remembrance, so too are Yi’s new versions like objects seen in the rearview mirror of her consciousness—some closer, some farther away, some larger, some smaller, some materially different.