“I’ve always anticipated where we can go with olfaction,” Yi said. “Like the day we can smell a JPEG. The day that we can text each other the cheese on the plate, and you can smell my lunch and I can smell your dinner.” The olfactometer itself may even aid significant medical advances. Yi noted that one day, our phones may be able to sniff us and detect cancer and other maladies—with complex ethical ramifications.
Collaboration is vital to Yi’s practice, at both a macro and micro level. Her work reduces hierarchies among media and scents themselves, demystifying the concept of the lone artistic genius along the way. And in addition to working with perfumers, past projects have involved partnering with scientists. She recently befriended Ferran Adrià, the world-famous chef of the now-defunct Costa Brava restaurant, elBulli.
Yi’s artwork literally seeps into viewers—whether they like it or not. Scent itself, according to the artist, “is not this kind of isolated experience.” When we smell, Yi said in the gently unsettling and darkly funny, sensual tone she’s perfected throughout her work, we can no longer separate “the self versus what is penetrating the self.”