TikTok Star Vita Kari’s Performance Piece at Art Basel Miami Beach Drew Crowds and Cops

The performance invited viewers to pour water on the artist as they sat inside a plexiglass container.

Lou-Belle Bernard pours canned water onto artist Vita Kari outside of Art Basel Miami Beach. Photo by Adam Schrader

An unsanctioned performance piece by artist Vita Kari drew large crowds, a city code compliance officer, and police officers outside of Art Basel Miami on December 9, despite being what the artist called “benign.”

Kari’s helpers pulled up with a van filled with boxes of canned water on the Design Miami side of the street around 4 p.m., just moment after the artist announced a spontaneous venue change on their social media. The helpers were in the process of unloading the boxes when fair security stopped them.

“We would like you to do it expeditiously,” an official with Design Miami told Kari, who is nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns, before ultimately moving them a couple hundred feet away to a grass patch nearby. Members of the public helped move the boxes of canned water, each bearing an image of the artist’s face as if they were trapped inside the can. Artnet News counted more than 63 boxes with 2,500 cans total.

Kari developed the piece with their manager, Victoria Daniel, who happens to work with Right Water, a canned water product of the nonprofit Drop4Drop, which funds sustainable clean water solutions to countries that need clean water.

Police watching Vita Kari perform a guerrilla piece outside of Art Basel Miami. Photo by Adam Schrader.

“Okay, location move,” Kari said in a singsong voice. “We got in trouble.”

By the time Kari was ready to begin, a crowd of more than two dozen people had gathered. Kari had a helper place a large recreation of one of the cans, with a plexiglass window, over their head. The artist pretended to be trapped inside as they begged viewers to drench them with water from the real cans.

“Can you guys hear me? Hello? Hello? Can you hear me? I’m trapped in a can,” Kari said as they performed, knocking on the inside of the prop.

An elderly woman, unaware of what was going on, walked up just minutes later and asked them if they were okay. “I had to tell them I was okay, because that was really sweet of them to check in,” Kari later said. Someone else walked up moments later and asked if they could pour the water on them. They were the first to do so.

“I thought she was joking at first,” said Randy Aquino, a 29-year-old model and the third person to pour water on Kari. He said he ultimately decided to step up “because she asked for it.”

“She gave me that look like, ‘I’m thirsty give me water,’ so I wanted to give her some water,” Aquino said. “I don’t really have a description for it other than her just feeling thirst and wanting people to pour water. When she said thank you, it was like she had been there for days. This is some David Blaine stuff, like she had gone for days without water in preparation for this event.”

A young boy pours canned water onto artist Vita Kari outside Art Basel Miami Beach. Photo by Adam Schrader.

Another young boy who poured water on Kari minutes later said he did it because they “looked thirsty.”

“I was like, ‘let me help her,’” Lou-Belle Bernard, another fair attendee, said. “I think she’s very dedicated to it because she’s not breaking character.” Without knowing Kari’s intent, Bernard theorized the performance was “part of a bigger story” and said “there’s meaning behind it like she’s trapped by who she is and needs help.”

At one point, a Miami Beach code compliance officer came by, stating that there had been “a complaint.”

A city code compliance officer responds to a complaint regarding Vita Kari’s performance. Photo by Adam Schrader.

Speaking to Artnet News midway through their performance, Kari said they make work to “offer a disruption to the doom scroll” as a digital artist but has now started to make such disruptions in real life, inspired by glitch feminism.

The location, right outside Art Basel, was chosen because the last performance they saw that inspired her was in 2014 when artists Kalan Sherrard and Maria Valenzuela brandished a prosthetic penis during a demonstration outside the convention center. They were charged with disorderly conduct.

“I was moved by the concept that somebody went that far to show their art in that way, not that I want to go there,” Kari said, who is best known for their zany short-video series, “The Craziest Thing About Being Creative,” which they began releasing on TikTok earlier this year.

And if Kari was told to move again, the artist said the performance was still going to happen. “I would have just started to perform,” they said. “I feel like I do everything for my art. I’ll do anything. My hands literally bled making this can because I had to cut the plexiglass and it broke and my hands were literally bleeding.”

See more images from Kari’s performance below.

A man with a can-print suit is handed a can of water as part of Vita Kari’s performance. Photo by Adam Schrader.

A woman participating in Kari’s performance. Photo by Adam Schrader.

A crowd formed to watch Vita Kari perform a guerrilla piece outside of Art Basel Miami. Photo by Adam Schrader.

Two people clinking their empty cans together after pouring water on Vita Kari. Photo by Adam Schrader.

Vita Kari carrying boxes of canned water ahead of her guerrilla performance outside Art Basel Miami Beach. Photo by Adam Schrader.

Helpers carrying boxes of Vita Kari’s canned water ahead of her guerrilla performance outside Art Basel Miami Beach. Photo by Adam Schrader.

A crowd watching Vita Kari perform their guerrilla piece outside of Art Basel Miami Beach. Photo by Adam Schrader.

 

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