The Never-Ending Loop of Self-Help

In 2016, artists Sun Yuan and Peng Yu displayed their piece titled Can’t Help Myself. This piece of artwork is a robotic machine that is inside a glass cubicle. The machine is shaped like a robotic arm that has a shovel on the end of it. The purpose of the machine is to continuously clean up the red liquid that spills around it by scooping it up.

Sprays of the liquid have ended up on the walls around the machine and streaks of the liquid have been left on the ground as it attempts to clean up the space around itself. This machine was built to work until it could not work anymore as the task to sweep up the liquid is a never-ending one. The task of the machine has been labeled a Sisyphus task as it seems impossible to complete. Each time the machine sweeps up the liquid it pushes it further on the opposite side causing it to have to be swept up all over again.

The artists also gave this machine human-like characteristics as that task at hand is sometimes interrupted by one or multiple of the 32 programmed dance moves it can partake in. Through this interaction with visitors, those that have witnesses these programmed dance moves explain that the machine appears like a caged animal and has been treated as one.

This machine stopped working in 2019 and had stirred up conversation on different social media platforms prior to the complete stoppage of the machine. Over the years the machine began to slow down its continuous work and those on social media felt sympathy towards it.

Over time, this machine has become a metaphor for life and standards people set for themselves. With the title of this installation being Can’t Help Myself it shows that the point of this piece was to illustrate an image of the machine trying to help itself, but it cannot therefore it stopped all together.

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Mia Braden

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