Shia LaBeouf, Performance Artist? LaBeouf vs Abramovic / by Chris Hall

Shia LaBeouf, #IAmSorry, 2014

Shia LaBeouf, #IAmSorry, 2014

I've always depended on the kindness of strangers.  Blanch DuBois, A Streetcar Named Desire.

Shia LaBeouf (actor and perhaps sometime performance artist) opened up in an email interview recently about a traumatic experience during his exhibit #IAmSorry.  Back in February, Shia LaBeouf staged his #IAmSorry art performance piece in a Los Angeles gallery where people were able to enter a room alone with the actor and do and say whatever they wished as he sat silently wearing a paper bag over his head that read: “I AM NOT FAMOUS ANYMORE.”  When asked if anything unsettling had occurred during the performance, La Beouf answered:

One woman who came with her boyfriend, who was outside the door when this happened, whipped my legs for ten minutes and then stripped my clothing and proceeded to rape me… There were hundreds of people in line when she walked out with dishevelled hair and smudged lipstick. It was no good, not just for me but her man as well. On top of that my girl was in line to see me, because it was Valentine’s Day and I was living in the gallery for the duration of the event – we were separated for five days, no communication. So it really hurt her as well, as I guess the news of it travelled through the line. When she came in she asked for an explanation, and I couldn’t speak, so we both sat with this unexplained trauma silently. It was painful.

The work sounds a lot like Marina Abramovic’s performance Rhythm 0, 1974.  For Rhythm 0, Abramovic placed 72 objects on a table and allowed the audience, during a span of six hours, to use them on her in any way they chose.  Among the objects were things that might give pleasure (a feather, honey) and things that might give pain (a whip, a knife).  The audience, at first, was rather modest in approaching her, but that soon transitioned into people choosing to express themselves with the instruments that designed to inflict pain.  Abramovic, recounting her experience, tells us “they cut up my clothes, stuck rose thorns in my stomach, one person aimed the gun (complete with a single bullet) at my head, and another took it away.  After exactly six hours, as planned, I stood up and started walking toward the audience.  Everyone ran away, to escape an actual confrontation.”  

Call me naive, but I’ve always believed in the generosity and kindness of strangers, maybe not when the encounter is distant (email, the internet, etc), but certainly on a person to person basis, people will be accommodating and we can expect decency.  This is why I do wonder about the cruelty of strangers, as demonstrated by these art experiments.  Subconsciously, is the cruelty directed toward the idea of the artist or celebrity . . . a veiled jealousy or resentment toward the idea of the other?  It is just a thought.

As demonstrated by these examples of performance art, conflating art and life can have real life consequences.  If Shia LaBeouf’s confession is true, then I would sincerely feel for him, but he is a professional actor (good at lying) who has fallen out of the limelight.  He might just be trying to get back in the newspapers.  I admit to having a hard time taking his story completely at face value, the circumstance do not add up – raped by a woman, after allowing himself to be whipped for ten minutes, while in a semi-public space with hundreds of people lined up.  If LaBeouf is lying, then it is an insult to real rape victims everywhere.  Besides this, I do not understand what LaBeof was hoping to accomplish by rehashing an Abramovic performance.  LaBeouf should leave the art making to the professionals.

Marina Abramovic, Rhythm 0, 1974

Marina Abramovic, Rhythm 0, 1974