Catriona Campbell

Dec 10, 2021

4 min read

Squid Game, the Sequel — Anicka Yi’s ‘In Love With the World’

Move over Squid Game, there’s a new cephalopod-related show taking the world by storm: Anicka Yi’s ‘In Love With the World’ at the Tate Modern

Image of Anicka Yi’s exhibition at the Tate Modern called In Love With the World

quid is an incredibly hot topic right now. There’s Netflix’s hit South Korean survival drama, Squid Game, which millions across the globe have devoured with relish since its release in September. There’s the recognition of squid and other marine animals like crabs and octopus as sentient beings by the UK’s amended Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill. And then there’s this:

‘And what, pray tell, am I looking at?’ you ask. These mesmerizing aerial cephalopod-like creatures are part of the most compelling installation to wash up on the shores of London’s Southbank in years. The latest Hyundai Commission, Anicka Yi’s In Love With the World can currently be enjoyed at London’s Tate Modern.

And what a great home for such an exhibition, one from the eccentric mind of a conceptual artist whose experimental work dives deep into the convergence of tech and biology. The gallery’s oceanic Turbine Hall — once part of Bankside Power Station and teeming with machinery in the industrial age — offers her an ideal space in which to present an intelligent ecosystem that reimagines machine life and our relationship with AI.

In this near-ethereal environment, complete with changing ‘scentscapes’ connecting the installation with the site and everything that inhabits it or has ever inhabited it, Yi, 50, asks: “What would it feel like to share the world with machines that could live in the wild and evolve on their own?” A great question, but I confess I completely missed the olfactory experience.

These partially squid-inspired machines — or aerobes, as she calls them — glide slowly in the upper reaches of the vast atrium, their tentacles rising and falling with puffs of air, and staying afloat thanks to little propellers. These helium-filled UAVs (uncrewed aerial vehicles) are fully autonomous, taking a unique route created by an array of choices in the system’s software — known as an artificial life program — without any human control.

Because “humans are neither masters to them, nor slaves to them”, according to Tate Modern’s Director of Exhibitions, Achim Borchardt-Hume, who sadly passed away this week, our relationship with these machines is one of equality.

In Yi’s intoxicating imagined ecosystem, the aerobes have evolved to become an independent, hybrid species whose individual and group behaviours develop over time, shaped by their environment — just like all other living creatures.

They’re influenced by changes in their ecosystem, such as human heat signatures, and they receive information from sensors all around them, just as we do from our natural senses — all of which means you’ll never see them behaving the same way more than once as their environment will always be different.

As AI plays an increasing role in our lives, the Korean-American artist hopes to change the way people think about intelligence, to end our fixation with the concept as exclusive to the brain, and to instead force us to consider it as linked with the physical world and how we respond to its elements.

Ultimately, she wants us to realise that we’re not special, that our experiences of life aren’t so unique, and that it’s important to close harmful gaps in environmental inequality.

I get Yi’s message loud and clear, and I think it’s incredibly smart. I’m also all for making people understand we need to be more sympathetic to the natural world — after all, it’s such an understanding that leads to progressive animal welfare decisions like classifying squid and lobsters as sentient beings.

However, she claims that we should end the distinction between machines and living things to help protect the natural world. And that, I have to say, I disagree with. As we develop a closer relationship with AI, it’s crucial to maintain such a distinction so we don’t forget what makes us us, so we don’t lose sight of the fact that we are — despite Yi’s argument to the contrary — unique!

I often find conflicts like this at the intersection of art and innovation, and wonder if artists fully appreciates the tech they’re playing with. In this instance, an artist using air in her work is perhaps a tad guilty of the teensiest gust of hot air in her comprehension of AI — just perhaps.

That said, I still absolutely recommend you swing by In Love With the World before the aerobes depart on 6th Feb 2022. It’s a truly captivating, thought-provoking piece, and I defy you to hate it.