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Petri dish containing bacteria cultures from a work in progress by Anicka Yi, 2015. Photo: Joerg Lohse.

SOMETHING SMELLED OFF IN THE GALLERY. Something ruined, or bad. The distinctive, slightly sickening odor turned out to be emanating from a plain cardboard box: Inside were stacks of clear plastic petri dishes, each flush with its own living, burgeoning bloom. Anicka Yi was growing bacteria, and the microbial cultures were spreading, metastasizing, like an unholy contagion in crimson and black and pink.

Yi had cultivated the organisms from the swabbed samples of one hundred women, mostly friends, or friends of friends. Working with biologists and the firm Air Variable, the artist embarked on a process of conversion: she chromatographically analyzed scent molecules from air samples of the collected bacteria, as well as air samples taken at Gagosian Gallery in New York during the run of an Urs Fischer exhibition. The data from both sets were then translated into a formula of synthetic

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