The world of social media: Can’t Help Myself

Emotions shown through artwork.


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“Can’t Help Myself”piece located at the Guggenheim Museum.

By Emilia Schwartz

Helplessness, feeling as if you cannot do anything to save yourself no matter how hard you try. Human emotions are complicated, but people have been able to use art to express themselves. Can’t Help Myself is an art piece by Sun Yuan and Peng Yu that has recently been trending on TikTok

The art piece shows a robot arm collecting oil in order to not shut down. The oil is colored red to relate it to human blood. At times, the robot will swing around as if having a panic attack. It was installed in 2016, but over time, it has gotten slower, and the walls of the exhibit have been stained red.

The robot might not be able to feel emotions like we do, but the way that it moves and its goal makes it seem and feel human. The robot is programmed to sweep up the red oil whenever it leaves a certain area. It shows the feeling of being overwhelmed and also the cruelty of humanity. The noises that the machine makes are loud and high pitched, almost as if it is screaming. The robot will at times spin in circles like it is bored.

On TikTok people have taken to sharing theories about the robot and sharing their experiences with the emotions the creator tried to show with the robot. People talk about how the red oil has gotten thicker over the years, how the robot looks sad.

They usually put emotional music over it while showing a video of the art piece. The most common songs used are ¨Exit Music (For A Film)¨ by Radiohead and ¨Dealer¨ by Lana Del Rey. They share other art from the same museum also meant to invoke emotions. Some people paint it in a positive light, saying that the machine does not feel anything, and this shows how empathetic humans are. We care about something that cannot actually feel pain or agony.

People share the history of the art and connect it to their own lives. Can’t Help Myself is not the only piece made by Sun Yuan and Peng Yu that people talk about. “Freedom”, “Why”, “Angel”, “Teenager Teenager”, and “Dear” are also popular robotics or statues among TikTokers.