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A dystopian robot arm is taking over TikTok, but what does it really mean?

Is Can’t Help Myself a ‘tragic’ commentary on contemporary life, or are we all completely missing the point? Back in 2016, Sun Yuan and Peng Yu — two of China’s most scandalous artists, known for using controversial materials such as live animals and human tissue in their work — debuted a new installation, commissioned for the Guggenheim Museum in New York. Titled Can’t Help Myself (2016-19), the artwork featured an industrial robot arm in a large glass box, where it had one task: contain a pool of viscous red liquid seeping out across the floor. Fitted with a custom-designed shovel, the mechanical arm detected when the liquid (which, despite the artists’ previous controversies, was not actually blood) moved outside of a predetermined circle. Then, using one of 32 pre-programmed movements, the machine would twist around the case, scraping the liquid back into place.

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