The actor’s foray into performance art takes a new turn, proving his commitment to the art form
Since his arrest, and much predicted breakdown, in 2014, Shia LaBeouf has made his foray into the world of performance art. First, his arrival on the red carpet of the Nymphomaniac premiere with his head covered with a paper bag that read ‘I am not famous anymore’, after having tweeted the phrase over 20 times some days before. What appeared to many (and admittedly myself) as just another lacklustre publicity stunt from a celebrity who had gone ‘off the rails’, was actually LaBeouf’s first work in partnership with artists Luke Turner and Nastja Säde Rönkkö. A belligerent question on the fleeting nature of celebrity, it seems the impact might have been lost because of a focus on LaBeouf’s eccentric actions.
Since then the trio has been working together on a variety of pieces, most of which you will surely have seen being slated or laughed at on your Facebook feed. This is where the response to LaBeouf’s work lacks the seriousness it might deserve or is perhaps unsuccessfully demanding: his celebrity status conversely attracts a great deal of attention to the work and negates most analytical responses. Perhaps I am being unfair, but it seems to me that a sweaty 14 year-old boy watching Transformers for Megan Fox might not be the right audience for a work like #TOUCHMYSOUL, which ponders the future of intimacy in the social media age.
There is a tendency, especially on social media, to dismiss LaBeouf’s work for a variety of reasons – his celebrity, his ‘breakdown’, its pretentiousness, its meaninglessness. All these responses and so many more have been touted on the internet as reasons to disregard the work of LaBeouf, Rönkkö and Turner. But is it fair? How worthy is the dismissal of art as worthless? And is celebrity really a reason to think less of someone’s artistic contribution?
His most recent piece, #ELEVATE, saw him and his two artistic collaborators, Turner and Rönkkö, spend 24 hours in a lift in Oxford. Afterwards, the leader of the Oxford Union called LaBeouf during #TOUCHMYSOUL, asking him to speak. LaBeouf, in his address, spoke about how he felt uncomfortable with the nature of talking to an audience in this manner, one which creates a natural hierarchy – a system of master and student. LaBeouf explained that with #ELEVATE they wanted to explore how to make “what could be a very cold unintimate interaction amongst us become something very warm and connected”. What better way to create intimacy than shoving a group of people into a small lift together? If intimacy was the intent, it was achieved. It is not a complex objective, but it certainly works, and I applaud LaBeouf, Turner and Rönkkö’s effort to change a pretty overdone format.
Celebrity interest and involvement in Art is not anything new, Jay Z’s Picasso Baby in 2013 was inspired by Marina Abramovic and Tilda Swinton in 1995 and 2013 taking part in Cornelia Parker’s The Maybe. Jay Z’s performance art debut was not entirely well received, some calling it the day performance art died. Even Abramovic said she felt “completely used” by the experience. Whatever the response, there is a pervasive uncertainty about celebrity participation in art, and the underlying expectation of pretension or self promotion is enough to put most people off, quite understandably.
But isn’t creating art, and making a contribution to a world you do not belong to with something you could feel truly passionate about, difficult enough without having the largest audience dismiss it almost immediately? I understand it is probably easier to laugh at Shia LaBeouf, but why not give him a chance?
Image Credit: Siebbi