TikTok is a great platform to discover the world of contemporary art

  • Arts
  • Saturday, 22 Jan 2022

TikTok users are particularly fond of highlighting art installations that are relatively unknown to the general public. Photo: AFP

Contemporary art has a bright future on TikTok. For a few months now, many users of the application have been discussing art installations such as "Can't Help Myself" by Sun Yuan and Peng Yu. The short videos are both creative and thought-provoking. We take a closer look. It was one of the big attractions of the 2019 edition of the Beijing International Art Biennale.

Artists Sun Yuan and Peng Yu made their mark on fairgoers with "Can't Help Myself," one of their many hard-hitting installations. At its centre: a huge robotic arm cleaning up a bloody puddle of red paint... until it had no strength left to do so.

Three years later, it's TikTok users' turn to discover this work of art. For a few months, short videos about "Can't Help Myself" have been appearing on the platform best known for its dance challenges, kitchen hacks and various gags. The phenomenon is such that the hashtag #CantHelpMyself has accumulated over 514 million views on the app.

Many of the most popular videos around this art installation were posted on TikTok last November. According to Artnet News, they emerged following a Facebook post.

The author of the post wrote that the robotic arm of "Can't Help Myself" touched her in a way that no piece of art has before. At first "it seemed happy and proud of its job, dancing around when it had visitors," Mulandra Snead explained in her post. "when I found out that it had finally stopped working in 2019, essentially dying, I couldn't help but imagine the relief it must've felt and so I've been in here crying over a robot arm."

From the robotic arm to the small public library

Many videos on TikTok themed around "Can't Help Myself" underline the very melancholic message of Sun Yuan and Peng Yu's creation. They even intensify it by using very nostalgic instrumental pieces in the background. Which is no surprise for TikTok user @yolkfather given the sadness that emanates from this installation.

"At the beginning it looked pretty nice, and everything was clean. And now everything's just like a mess, which is what I think the artist wanted. And the way this thing moves and the sound of the metal screeching makes it seem like it has real human emotion," she explains in the video, which has racked up millions of views on the platform.

While "Can't Help Myself" made headlines at the 2019 Beijing International Art Biennale, art lovers first discovered it three years earlier at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. It was one of the centerpieces of the Tales Of Our Time exhibition, which featured the creations of Chinese artists such as Chia-En Jao, Kan Xuan, Sun Xun and Zhou Tao.

The most skeptical believe, erroneously, that art and TikTok do not mix. A preconception that users of the platform have contradicted many times. They particularly like to highlight art installations that are relatively unknown to the general public. Take "Bookmark: A Collection Of Items." Only visitors to the Greenville Public Library in Rhode Island could see it until it appeared on TikTok last October.

And it met with some success there. The video presenting this collection of various items and papers found in library books has collected more than 203,000 "likes" on TikTok. A popularity that the creator of the installation, Ali Beaudette, can't fully explain. "I've been trying to figure out why people responded so strongly to it," she told ArtNews.

"On a really human level, I think people are very drawn to the tiny details of strangers' lives, especially in this weird time where we have so much distance from each other."

A distance that TikTok users who like art are trying to bridge. - AFP

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