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Monday, October 18, 2021

But does it smell like art? The exhibition that aims to pass the sniff test

The floating aerobes – whose flight paths are dictated by programming designed to simulate life and which reacts to environmental stimuli such as the heat generated by visitors – are meant to represent independent machine life and are intended to spark a debate over how human beings might relate to “living” machines. 

“They are here to hopefully open up that dialectic and expand the conversation, that machines don’t necessarily have to serve us or scare us, in order to coexist with us,” Ms Yi said, adding that there was still time, before artificial intelligence becomes too advanced, for humanity to “align our goals with machines”. 

The pre-human scentscapes, such as that from the Jurassic period, are also there, Ms Yi explained, to give the aerobes a sense of ancientness and to “break from our anthropocentric solipsism that’s it’s all about us”.

Her creations take two forms, “xenojellies”, which resemble transparent balloons with coloured tops and gently pulsating tentacles, and “planulae”, a kind of hairy yellow amoeba. 

Ms Yi said the original germ of her idea was an “aquarium of machines” filling the hall and that she had opted to give them soft, sea-creature like bodies to counter the traditional view of cold and metallic robots.

The Seoul-born artist, who grew up in the United States, has previously experimented with bacteria and odours. In 2015, as a response to public fear over the West African Ebola crisis, she took bacteria from 100 women and grew them in giant petri dishes for an exhibition. She also developed a scent from the samples, which was dispersed at the gallery.

In 2017, her piece Immigrant Caucus involved insecticide canisters releasing the scent of “Asian women and carpenter ants.”

In Love With The World, part of the Tate’s Hyundai Commissions, runs from October 12 to January 16.

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