What Bacteria And Smell Have To Do With Feminism Today


Can you imagine what’s it like to hand-collect bacterial specimens from 100 of your closest female friends and colleagues? According to Anicka Yi, the intrepid artist behind a new installation at New York’s Kitchen space, it requires a lot of legwork, q-tips and ziplock bags, plus a desire to turn field reporter/mad scientists on your peers.

For her project “You Can Call Me F,” she successfully gathered samples from 100 women, as part of a larger effort to draw a parallel between the fear of contagion and the unease with which some view feminism and its ability to redirect power. That might seem like a big leap, from bacteria to banging down the doors of patriarchy. That’s because unpacking Yi’s project is hard work, so it’s best to start with the basics.

Anicka Yi, Grabbing At Newer Vegetables, 2015, Plexiglas, agar, female bacteria, fungus, 84.5 x 24.5 inches, Courtesy of the artist and 47 Canal

Korean-born, American-based Yi is currently in residence at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she’s been working with synthetic biologists in the hopes of creating a superbacterium. That’s where the 100 samples come in. Yi and her MIT collaborators, Tal Danino and Patrick Hickey, are engineering the superbacterium from the biological information she gathered. That superbacterium is what’s currently producing a “pretty pungent” odor at the Kitchen.

The smell — Yi also described it, in a phone call with the Huffington Post, as “a little funky” — is but one sensual layer in an installation chock full of visual cues that recall viruses, hygiene and the gritty nuances of encroaching ecosystems. At the Kitchen, her specimens sit inside plastic quarantine tents stuffed next to incubating lizard eggs, bowls of agar and dried shrimp. The ephemera helps build a laboratory —> Read More