• Erika Lee

The Bloody Machine Behind the Border Crisis



In the installation titled "Can't Help Myself", Sun Yuan and Peng Yu employ an industrial robot, visual-recognition sensors, and software systems to examine our increasingly automated global reality, one in which territories are controlled mechanically without consideration for the individuals impacted by the crisis.


Initially, this installation sought to explore whether an artist's will could be replaced with a robot. The artists' desire to animate the machine is reflected in the names designated for the 32 movements that the machine can perform, such as "scratch an itch," "bow and shake," and "ass shake". From outside the cage-like glass walls that isolate it from the gallery space, the machine "seems to acquire consciousness and metamorphose into a life-form that has been captured and confined in the space."( https://www.guggenheim.org/artwork/34812) The machine has one specific purpose: to contain the viscous red liquid within a confined space. When the liquid strays too far, the machine is thrown into a frenzy, as it frantically scrapes it back into place, leaving sweeping smudges on the floor and splashes on the glass walls.


The robot's endless dance presents a perplexing, Sisyphean view on contemporary issues regarding migration. It calls to attention the violent consequences of the political agendas that seek to put more borders in between places and cultures, and contain people within these artificial boundaries.


The image of the robot applies to the current American government's dehumanizing view of the migrants as a problem that must be scraped away from American soil. Donald Trump exemplifies such sentiments, saying: "When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best.They're not sending you. They're not sending you. They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists." Perhaps the installation implies that the bystanders who are watching the border crisis occur behind the glass wall are guilty as well, in failing to stop the machine of the government in its bloody tracks.



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