Alien Jellyfish Drones Have Invaded Tate Modern's Turbine Hall

Anicka Yi, Tate Modern ★★★★☆

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 31 months ago

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Last Updated 12 October 2021

Alien Jellyfish Drones Have Invaded Tate Modern's Turbine Hall Anicka Yi, Tate Modern 4
Threat or friend? And do we decide or do they? Image courtesy Tate. Photo: Will Burrard Lucas.

Alien beings float above me, like jellyfish or those beings from the film Arrival. This isn't the vanguard of some other-worldly invasion though — it's the latest Tate Modern Turbine Hall commission, by Anicka Yi.

A closer looks reveals propellers fixed to their sides; these aren't aliens at all, but drones. Wavy 'tentacles' pulse as these creatures bob up and down in the air, before returning to base at the far end of the hall to recharge.

This is quite the sight upon entering the Turbine Hall. Image courtesy Tate. Photo: Joe Humphrys.

The drones are equipped with a degree of artificial intelligence; they swarm together, without ever touching and are also drawn to heat — so you'll find them clustering where people are, though always staying just out of reach.

It makes me question who's observing who in this air-to-ground interaction. Is the art also examining me to figure out whether I'm a threat, an object of fascination... or possibly too unimportant to give much thought to?

Visually captivating, this exhibition will have young and old mouths agape in wonder. There's also an olfactory element; historically-charged aromas are pumped into the space — spices thought to counteract the plague; marine scents from the pre-Cambrian era. The thing is, they're so subtle, I really have to strain my nostrils. It's the only duff note in an otherwise spellbinding artwork.

Recharging back at base. Image courtesy Tate. Photo: Joe Humphrys.

Anicka Yi calls her floating creations 'aerobes' and says there are two species, one bulkier and less photogenic than their jellyfish-like playmates. Yet both weave around one another in an aerial ballet. Craning my neck upwards I question what the future of our environment is; are we moving towards animal-machine hybrids and will drones like this be all over our skies if Amazon has its way? If so, I get the feeling Jeff Bezos has more clinical functional designs in mind — not something as beautiful as these magical dancing drones.

Hyundai Commission: Anicka Yi: In Love With the World, Tate Modern until 16 January 2022. Entrance is free, booking recommended.