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Smelling art: Anicka Yi challenges us to take in art using our noses

Artist Anicka Yi on creating art using smells instead of the typical senses of sight and sound.
Artist Anicka Yi's work explores a sense that not many associate with art: smell. (David Heald)

When we talk about art, we often talk about work that appeals mostly to your senses of sight and sound: music, a play, a photograph or a painting. But what about our sense of smell?

Anicka Yi is a New York-based artist who has made a name for herself by bringing smell into the world of visual art. Yi works with scientists and a perfumer, cultivating fragrances and depicting them in large scale art works. (Look below to see what this looks like.)

Force Majeure by Anicka Yi. (David Heald/Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation)

"When I work with scent, I don't use it in place of something," she clarifies. "Rather, I use it to tap into triggers of memory and perception."

Yi's works have included tempura-fried flowers, leather fermented in kombucha, aquarium gravel, Girl Guide cookies and bacteria collected from human body swabs. Yi is aware that scent is, unlike many other art forms, temporary, but that's part of her artistic statement. 

Lifestyle Wars by Anicka Yi. (David Heald/Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation)

"That was an intentional political statement that, maybe, all art shouldn't stick around forever in its object form," she argues. "It's also kind of very gendered, a very masculine approach towards art to create monuments that last and outlive the artist." 

Yi's latest solo exhibit at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City is called Life is Cheap. For more information, head over to their website

Lifestyle Wars by Anicka Yi. (David Heald/Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation)

— Produced by Cora Nijhawan

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