By Holly Bond
“What happened to you, Shia Labeouf?”
If you asked anyone what Shia Labeouf was famous for these days, it is likely they would reference that meme, his punching a Nazi, and, somewhat nostalgically, Even Stevens.
Needless to say, for an actor his age, Labeouf has built up a strange array of accolades. The Just Do It meme was the most googled of 2015, boasting nearly 9 million google results and 34 million views on YouTube of the OG video. Not quite the honour people may have expected the young actor to receive ten years ago, when he was tipped as the next Tom Cruise.
Mainstream media have been pretty quick to dribble out the classic celebrity breakdown narrative. ‘What happened to you, Shia Labeouf?’ Forbes magazine asks the internet rhetorically, before claiming that his ‘bushy beard conﬁrms he is done with the mainstream.’
The ‘weird shenanigans,’ Labeouf has been up to, much to the media’s disappointment, are not providing Charlie Sheen-level material. Instead, Labeouf has been spending the best part of a decade dedicating his time to performance art.
Since 2014, Labeouf has been collaborating with British artist Luke Turner and Norwegian artist Nastja Rönkkö. Labeouf approached Turner after reading the manifesto for Metamordernism, a document penned by Turner that states what art is striving for in the 21st Century: an oscillation between diﬀerent states, plurality of experience, and most importantly, presentness.
The trio’s ﬁrst, infamous #IAMSORRY piece perfectly encompasses Metamordernist values. This had Labeouf treading the red carpet at the Berlin Film Festival with a bag over his head stating I’M NOT FAMOUS ANYMORE. This was followed by Labeouf wearing the paper bag in an L.A. art gallery whilst crying, as visitors entered the room one by one. In a single piece of performance art, Labeouf oscillates from a huge public stunt that is gobbled up by the mass media, to repeating the same action in a very private space. The work frustrated a mainstream press that looks for the vulnerabilities in certain celebrities. Labeouf instead took to a space and exposed his own vulnerability to the public on an individual basis.
"His art should be celebrated in its criticism of the 21st century preoccupation with fame and celebrity."
Can We Touch Fame's Soul?
Irish performance artist Amanda Coogan states that performance art is resistant to the art market, because it is there in the present body and moment. It cannot be bought or sold. This is certainly true of Labeouf’s work, but he pushes this idea further by using the idea of celebrity itself. The Metamodernist manifesto reads; ‘Art’s role is to explore the promise of its own paradoxical ambition, but coaxing excess towards presence’.
In the 21st century, celebrities and reality TV stars are as dominant as they have ever been. Shia Labeouf uses this idea of overwhelming celebrity presence to make us question reality in a post-truth world of instant news and media. By using his celebrity in his performance art, he makes the case that celebrity is itself a performance. We expect Charlie Sheen to casually tell a story on Conan O’Brian. But when he is #winning with tiger’s blood, we hit the breakdown button and freak the fuck out, like we are witnessing animals escaping from the zoo.
Other work such as #ALLMYMOVIES saw Labeouf sit in a cinema, watching all his movies in reverse chronological order, and inviting people to sit with him. Like #IAMSORRY, his #ALLMYMOVIES piece deliberately de-centres how we typically perceive celebrity.
The famous man from Transformers now sits and reacts to ﬁlms like we do, IRL, on our side of the screen. His art should be celebrated in its criticism of the 21st century preoccupation with fame and celebrity.
Labeouf’s art also attacks a media that seeks sensationalism rather than truth, as his own art strives to expose the falseness of a single narrative. In works such as #TOUCHMYSOUL, Labeouf, Turner, and Rönkkö accepted calls from around the world, asking ‘Can you touch my soul?’ Over a thousand calls were typed up for the public to see in a gallery in Liverpool.
The plurality of experience the trio seek to ﬁnd in their work resists an ‘objective’ press, pushing instead for a multitude of narratives.
The continuing piece Labeouf, Rönkkö and Turner are currently working on is #HEWILLNOTDIVIDEUS. Although they say it is not speciﬁcally an anti-Trump art piece, it could certainly be perceived as an attack on the man elected to the White House to carry out what may be the century’s greatest piece of performance art. If Labeouf’s work asks tells us anything, it is to stop the worship of the individual, and to examine closer the multiplicity of life.