A Vita Kari TikTok starts with them doing a valley-girl voice—a voice they joke, despite being nonbinary, is in their soul as an LA native. Cool and unaffected, they pluck an eyebrow hair. “The craziest thing about being creative,” they say while they do it, preparing the viewer to receive the sort of anodyne Tiktok advice about self-care or forming good habits that causes my brain to smooth over until I fall asleep. But what immediately follows, the answer to that promised secret, forcibly yanks me from the aimless doomscroll I’m on. “This isn’t my hand, I just printed it out!” they declare, their voice suddenly taking up a sense of manic urgency, their eyes going wide.
And the hand holding the tweezer is indeed printed out. Same goes for the phone Kari is holding to film themselves applying bronzer in another video, or their entire ear in a third video. In yet another, it’s the literal text floating above them, which moments earlier I was sure had been digitally added through the app. What you thought was going to be your run-of-the-mill TikTok content unfurls into an optical illusion, impressive production design, and commentary on femininity and virality.
This series has delighted and enchanted tens of millions of TikTok viewers, by design. Kari is currently working on their thesis titled “virality as form” for their MFA at Otis College of Art and Design. Their work explores the overlap between content and art, playing into the expectations of both. Kari enjoys that boundary that their work teeters on and tells Jezebel that they “hope that the videos, if you’re not looking that deep, are just fun” for casual scrollers. But for those wanting to get a bit more heady about it, they “always hope they can be a gateway drug for somebody if they want more in the conceptual art realm.”
As someone always down to pop a few gateway drugs, I watch Kari’s videos on loop not only for the visual gimmicks, but also for how they satisfy my craving for a dropped facade when it comes to the content by influencers, creators, and even good friends that I consume daily. It feels like a double reveal, when Kari concedes the gimmick and their voice switches into a more crazed, feral version of itself. I almost always cackle.
“I want to see somebody break the fourth wall,” Kari explained. When a creator “shows their true self or maybe are interrupted for a minute” and we get an “unfiltered broken moment, we’re just like, ‘yes, love it,’” they said, and I agree. Those peeks behind the scene scratch an itch that most curated, churned-out content can’t reach. I’ve watched beauty influencers apply contour or impossibly fit women preach the healing powers of “just going on walks,” and I want to scream, “Get fucking real!” I crave the crack in the veneer that Kari’s performance both provides and comments on. The quick dip into a mania, which I imagine all creators who are tirelessly making videos and commodifying their lives must feel, is a catharsis.
Right now, there’s so much obsession with “quiet luxury”; we’re inundated with minimalist photo dumps of stone fruit still lifes or lapping waves in far-off bodies of water—online identities and aesthetics that project the ease of affluence. And while we know that we’re seeing a highly curated version of these influencers’ and creators’ lives, the content works overtime to make us think those lives really are that lovely. After luring us in with the promise of a single secret to a fulfilling life of creativity, Kari’s videos gift us with what we actually want: an unveiling of the elaborate, meticulous, and almost deranged commitment needed to achieve the facade. They also acknowledge something we all know but can always stand to be reminded of: that things aren’t as they appear.
When I first came across Kari’s performance of mania, it reminded me of Chris Crocker’s infamous “Leave Britney Alone” video: sweaty, urgent, and way too close to the face, staking out a place in Internet history because of its raw and unhinged emotion. But Kari’s work isn’t off the cuff. They sometimes film hundreds of takes (hence the sweatiness) and ideate on new iterations of the bit with the help of their partner, Evian Daye, who they excitedly describe as “the celeb of my life.” Creators like institutional critique performance artist Andrea Fraser, hip hop duo Flyana Boss (whose TikToks of them sprinting through the streets as they rap have gone viral), and comedian Delaney Rowe (who satirizes female character tropes in movies) serve as inspiration to Kari.
“I think that there’s something really high art and very performance about committing to a bit,” Kari said. “When I see it from an art lens, I see it as you are bleeding for your art.”
As for their own relationship to social media, Kari seems to have a steady if not exceedingly normal relationship to it. “I have a lot of positive and negative feelings about the share and reach that can happen,” they said, while also admitting that they can be “a total doomscroller.” They hesitate to categorize the work they’re doing as a full knock of social media platforms and instead want to maintain a curious approach to them. “I want to really play with the idea of what can wake you up a little bit” on the platforms, they said.
Virality in many instances can be what dampens sparks of inspiration. I often think about influencers who’ve tied their popularity and livelihoods to a single thing that’s worked for them. Like, do DIY-ers have to live in a state of constantly remodeling their home for as long as they live? But Kari’s work, which set out from the get-go as a conversation with virality—the choice to use that femme valley-girl voice, the revealing of secrets and tips, the exposing elaborate production—only seems to get more captivating the more they produce.
Kari says the the next step they are figuring out for their artwork, in the context of their MFA, is “how does [it] perform in the gallery space?” As such, one of their videos has already taken the gimmick into a white-walled gallery. “The craziest thing about being creative,” they start off as usual, “is that I’m trapped in this phone.” The camera filming them then pulls away to reveal it’s filming a pre-recorded video playing on a phone placed on a pedestal. Kari’s audio continues, “Get me out of the phone, help me, can you guys hear me.” Their frantic pleas drown out as we back further away and the noise of gallery go-ers chit-chatting fills our ears.