Berlin

Anicka Yi, The Easy Way to Quit New York, 2013, Plexiglas, stainless-steel shower handle, vinyl tubing, glycerin soap, resin, petri dish, paper, wax, fish-oil capsule, 11 3/4 x 8 5/8 x 7 3/4".

Anicka Yi, The Easy Way to Quit New York, 2013, Plexiglas, stainless-steel shower handle, vinyl tubing, glycerin soap, resin, petri dish, paper, wax, fish-oil capsule, 11 3/4 x 8 5/8 x 7 3/4".

Anicka Yi

Gallery Lars Friedrich

Anicka Yi, The Easy Way to Quit New York, 2013, Plexiglas, stainless-steel shower handle, vinyl tubing, glycerin soap, resin, petri dish, paper, wax, fish-oil capsule, 11 3/4 x 8 5/8 x 7 3/4".

On entering Anicka Yi’s recent exhibition, one saw a light-gray wall with rectangular recessed chambers containing sculptural assemblages, stylishly illuminated and mounted on flat white pedestals. The presentation evoked the displays at a high-end store—which makes a certain sense, since the show was partly conceived in collaboration with Mari Ouchi of New York–based boutique jeweler Faux/Real. Three large compartments contained arrangements of materials such as translucent resin, trinkets, Plexiglas, and steel; a smaller one was filled with dry dog food. For all her work’s superficial kinship with the collisions of store display and sculpture in work by artists such as Josephine Meckseper or Haim Steinbach, however, Yi encourages a different mode of spectatorship by embedding her art in a narrative that invites personal, affective involvement.

A text written (with artist and writer Jordan Lord) for the occasion played a crucial role in leading the viewer toward an emotional and psychological relationship with the works on view. Anchored in the idea after which the show was titled, “Denial,” the text is a dizzying accumulation of information and ideas regarding, among much else, memory, time, loss, absence, separation, koans, couples therapy, forensics, and cryonics. Fragments from the story of a past relationship are entangled with questions such as “how can [an object] . . . be in denial of its own movement toward death?” against a background of speculation about how to deal with being denied—the unsolved conundrum of desire in the face of loss.

In this light, the works in the show could be seen as miniature dioramas of estrangement and connection, proximity and distance, presence and absence. In It Only Takes 20 Minutes to Shift the Blame (all works 2013), the couple of inches between a steel ball and the rest of the assemblage seem metaphorically vast; the objects cast inside the adjacent block of translucent resin and glycerin soap could be read as representing an absorption of one material into another, while a brass ring around a Plexiglas cylinder evokes yet another kind of intimacy. In The Easy Way to Quit New York, by contrast, all the materials are in physical contact with one another: A rubber bracelet loops around a stainless-steel shower handle on translucent red Plexiglas, which in turn leans on a block of object-filled resin. Printed on the steel handle, a text simultaneously guides, disrupts, and transforms the reception of the work: DO WE NEED COUPLES THERAPY?/NO WE ARE COUPLES THERAPY.

The objects in the show thus coalesced into a dizzying, desperate mix of Eros and Thanatos, with upscale consumer fetishism brought head-to-head with the personal sadness that comes from (both future and experienced) loss, at whose furthest extreme is death. On the exhibition’s opening night, two heads made of ice were in the gallery, one in a refrigerator and one on the floor, melting at different speeds, yet both still, inevitably, disappearing. The melancholy of this work, Forensics & Cryonics (What I Would Like to Be If I Wasn’t What I Am, Issue #2), was inexorable; afterward, a water stain remained, barely visible, on the gallery floor.

The exhibition thus performed several of the interlinked aspects of denial in the text. Yet this attitude of negation seems both dependent on and mistrustful of its own affirmative opposite, however temporary and ephemeral—but as what? As mirage, as nostalgia, as form, as presence, as fetish—or, more concretely, as chromed sphere, as dog food, as love story? It’s an unanswerable question. As Yi and Lord’s text states: “Even if I were to peel away the layers of visual information to try to locate the mystery, I would find some image that cancelled out or replaced, that spoke in contradiction of the truth embedded there.”

Alexander Scrimgeour