How Vita Kari Wields Virality as an Artistic Form

The L.A.-based visual artist isn't letting social media fame dictate their next moves.

A person in pink top puts their hands up in a wet tube surrounded by crumpled cans
Vita Kari, “Trapped in a Can: Subject as Body” (2023). Courtesy Vita Kari

Anyone who made it to Art Basel Miami Beach last month may have run into interdisciplinary visual artist Vita Kari, not in the convention center but outside of it. Seemingly trapped in a pop-top can of their own devising. Alongside 2,500 branded cans of water. Their unsanctioned performance piece “Trapped in a Can: Subject as Body” (a follow-up to their 2023 installation, “Virality as Form: Trapped in a Billboard”) had Miami police flummoxed, according to several sources.

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Ditto for Miami Basel attendees, who were conceivably caught off guard by Kari’s activation, which was produced in partnership with canned spring water brand Right Water and the water accessibility nonprofit Drop4Drop. Kari designed the custom 12 oz. cans, which passersby were encouraged to empty into the human-sized can holding the artist in whatever way they saw fit, calling to mind Marina Abramović’s Rhythm 0 and similar works.

Just who is Vita Kari? You might know them from Instagram if you’re of a certain age or, if you’re below a certain age, from TikTok, where they have amassed more than a million followers thanks in part to their viral (and I can say from experience, addictive) “Craziest Thing About Being Creative” series. Don’t mistake the LGTBTQ+ artist for an influencer, however. Virality aside, Kari is all artist—one who believes you don’t need a gallery to be an artist but, ironically, has also had their own gallery, VITAWOOD, in West Adams, Los Angeles.

We had the pleasure of asking Kari a few questions about the nature of art, their Miami Basel experience and what they’re doing next.

Your ‘craziest thing about being creative’ videos are hilarious—but are they capital-A art? Do you see a dividing line between “creator” and “artist”?

This is such a great question! While not all of my content is fine art, my “craziest thing about being creative” videos absolutely are. Unlike my less intentional videos or posts, the “craziest thing” series embodies the characteristics of contemporary art theory—innovative use of medium (short-form video via social media), interactivity, audience participation and reflection of society.

In the “craziest thing” series, I disguise analog/printed elements as digital or physical and then unveil their true nature at the last moment. This method challenges perceptions of reality, bridging the gap between physical art and its digital reinterpretation. The gentle disruption invites the audience to engage, question and explore the ever-blurring line between the digital and the real!

I would also argue virality itself can be utilized as a form/medium. As a viral video grows on social media, it becomes a site-specific (online only), participatory work that evolves with its audience. It’s both an interactive spectacle and a mirror reflecting our collective consciousness. I consider virality an exploration of the ephemeral, contagious nature of ideas in our hyper-connected world—making it a perfect medium of the fine arts.

What has virality been like, and what do you plan to do with it? Has it translated into more people learning about VITAWOOD and your other projects?

Virality has been eye-opening, humbling and inspiring! I want to use the traction I’ve received to show that virality and short-form video is a medium. I also want to reopen VITAWOOD! We had two spaces (a permanent installation available for creative projects and a venue space available for workshops/small shows) but closed them in 2022. My goal is to reopen the spaces and have them available for free. We used to do it by sliding scale, but this time I want to make sure it is 100 percent available to anyone in the creative community to utilize! Growing up in L.A., it felt like there weren’t enough “third spaces”/free spaces to throw a DIY art show in or shoot a music video. Especially as a queer person, it can be isolating to know where to start! That’s absolutely my biggest goal. I see it happening in late 2024.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about the vibe of this year’s Miami Basel.

I had the privilege of going last year, and I was blown away and knew that I had to go back this year as a part of it somehow. “Trapped in a Can” felt like the perfect opportunity! The amount of innovation coming from the artists showing at Art Basel and NADA is incredible. Some pieces moved me to tears this year.

Another layer that makes it incredibly special is that I was emotionally conceived in Miami! My parents are from there and met in high school. Miami is a glowy dreamscape and the perfect backdrop for Art Basel, and the entire week was a whirlwind. There were, of course, a lot of roller-coaster emotions, because some things were completely unplanned, like my giant can didn’t make it to Miami initially. The water was also running late, but shout out to Victoria Daniel—my manager and also collaborator on this project—who really handled everything!

“Trapped in a Can” involved, to me, a scary degree of audience participation. Was anyone a total asshole?

It was definitely an experiment in empathy. For the most part, people were just interested and they engaged with care. But because we told passersby they could do anything they wanted with the can, some people decided to take their cans and throw them at me. I can’t say I’m surprised, but it was extra shocking because I was trapped inside my own giant can and everything was super loud in there, so it echoed like a boom.

A man pours water onto a person wearing a pink top who is trapped in a plastic tube
A passerby pours water on Kari. Courtesy Vita Kari

I also noticed that most women or femmes generally were cautious about pouring water on me or took their time. They would only pour out little spills on me, asking if I’m alright during the process. Men, masc and male-identifying people didn’t move with the same intention—most of them just dumped the entire can on my face with no remorse. It was interesting! I liked seeing the shift.

What’s next for you? More video? More mixed media? More everything? Or something totally different?

My next project is my solo show at Bolsky Gallery. I’m currently getting my MFA at Otis College of Art and Design, and for my thesis show, I’ll be making my own interpretation of a gas station inside the gallery with a reception on March 28th. I don’t want to give too much away, but you can expect to see me infiltrating the physical realm in more ways, similar to “trapped in a billboard” and “trapped in a can,” except bigger and better!

How Vita Kari Wields Virality as an Artistic Form