Internet users have felt sorry for a worker ordered to clean up the liquid while people just stand and watch. This is slightly odd as the worker is a robot scooping red paint.
Videos of the 2016 art installation have been going viral online, five years after the New York City Guggenheim Museum commissioned the work.
Sun Yuan & Peng Yu built and employed a robot for their installation. The machine contains pieces made up of visual-recognition sensors and intimate software systems.
They did so to raise awareness to examine our increasingly automated global reality.
The artists aim to convey that control is evident in specific territories mechanically. They also touched on how relationships between people and machines are rapidly changing.
Placed behind transparent acrylic walls, their robot scooping red paint has one specific duty, to contain a viscous, deep-red liquid within a predetermined area.
Surrounded by four acrylic walls, the installation invites visitors to watch the robot’s desperate attempt to clean the space using programmed moves.
Sun Yuan and Peng Yu designed 32 movements for the machine, including the “scratch an itch,” “bow and shake”, and “ass shake” – no wonder TikTok fell in love.
In recent weeks, videos of the robot have been gaining views in the millions and prompting all sorts of emotions from a predominantly young audience on TikTok.
Some people on Twitter are even claiming to be crying over the sad scene:
Others edit the clips with sad music, overlaid with black and white filters like a movie character or celebrity.
One video has over six million likes, which to the tune of Exit Music by Radiohead, compares footage of the art installation in 2016 to more recent footage.
Why? Who knows. For viewers, the potentially eerie satisfaction of watching the robot’s continuous action could elicit a sense of voyeurism and excitement instead of thrills or suspense.
In this case, who is more vulnerable: the human who built the machine or the machine which a human controls?
Or maybe we should think of Can’t Help Myself as a provocation.
After all, the artists themselves do. Sun told Artsy in 2020, “We see how the robot and the liquid finish by torturing each other.”
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