The macabre Chinese artwork has fascinated TikTok – again. Why?

“This artwork will make me cry forever,” wrote one of the millions of viewers on TikTok.

Screenshot of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum Facebook page

At first glance, the “Can’t Help Myself” art installation could easily be mistaken for a crime scene: red liquid everywhere, splattered onto the pristine white walls and glass surrounding the screen, accumulating on the floor under bright fluorescent lights.

After a second look, it stuck in the minds of viewers for years to come. More than five years after its inception, “Can’t Help Myself” continues to keep social media in a stranglehold.

TikTok seems particularly attached to the artwork, with videos of it get millions of views on the app.

While 2016, when the art debuted, is far from historic, the enduring prominence of “I Can’t Help It” baffles (and fatigues) some social media users. Why does an app like TikTok, which is bursting with new trends all the time, keep clinging to installs?

“This piece of art will make me cry forever,” one viewer wrote on a TikTok of the artwork posted on August 18, which had 6.5 million likes as of August 31.

“I know she’s a machine, but she looks sad and tired,” another person wrote – a common observation among viewers.

“I Can’t Help It” Created by Chinese artists Sun Yuan and Peng Yu with the help of two robotics engineers, was commissioned for the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York in 2016, according to the Guggenheim Archives.

Stuck inside a glass box, the arm of the industrial robot has only one task, day after day: to collect the red and bloody liquid which escapes from it to put it back inside. -same.

“When the sensors detect that the fluid has moved too far away, the arm frantically pushes it back into place, leaving stains on the floor and splatters on the surrounding walls,” the Guggenheim archives said. “Observed from the cage-like acrylic partitions that isolate it in the gallery space, the machine appears to gain consciousness and metamorphose into a life form that has been captured and confined in space.”

When the exhibition opened, the machine was new and fast in its only task. Over time, the fluids splashing onto the metal bogged it down, giving it a worn and worn-out look.

The piece was also part of Guggenheim Exhibition Tales of our timewhich states that even though the pieces originate from China, the messages of the artwork go beyond borders and into the lives of many people.

“All, however, challenge the line between fiction and reality in order to make and unmake boundaries,” the Guggenheim wrote in its exhibit notes. “Those who divide communities, regions, nations and continents, as well as those who separate past and present, reality and dreams, rationality and absurdity.”

TikTok’s sympathetic comments with “I can’t help it” are a testament to the fact that Yuan and Yu’s efforts to humanize the machine have been a widespread success.

“This still breaks my heart,” wrote one viewer on TikTok. “It’s a work of art that depicts a human who works hard to survive despite endless pain, but he never gives up.”

“I still feel sad every time I see this…because it reminds me of me,” wrote another.

The idea of ​​’I can’t help myself’ has parallels with Albert Camus’ ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’, in which a man is doomed to forever roll a boulder down a hill before it rolls back down. for eternity.

While many online remain infatuated with the piece, others have accused aficionados of being too dramatic.

“It’s a machine, what does that mean, it looks tired?” a challenged person.

“It’s crazy how humans personify anything but still destroy life around us,” said another.

Despite the criticism, “Can’t Help Myself” aficionados remain out in force on TikTok, defending their take on the artwork.

“This piece has a deeper meaning than just a ‘robot’ or a ‘machine’. Sure it is what it is, but it’s built to stand for something,” someone defended. “To make you feel.”

This story was originally published August 31, 2022 4:34 p.m.

Alison Cutler is a national real-time reporter for the Southeast at McClatchy. She graduated from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University and previously worked for The News Leader in Staunton, VA, an affiliate of USAToday.