How Shia LaBeouf and two art school graduates made the definitive Trump protest artwork
Brad Pitt may have warned Shia LaBeouf off the art world but the star has found power in artistic collaboration
Movie stars seem to embody creative individualism, yet the films that make them famous are always collaborative works, fashioned by large teams: including directors, screenwriters, composers, animators, cinematographers and others.
So, when the Hollywood star Shia LaBeouf chose to enter the fine art world in 2014, it didn't exactly surprise us that he decided to work not as a solo artist, but as part of a collective.
As LaBeouf explains in our new book Co- Art: Artists on Creative Collaboration, he struck-up a working relationship with Central Saint Martins graduates Nastja Säde Rönkkö and Luke Turner, after he was widely criticised for shooting an unlicensed screen adaptation of a popular undergound comic.
Reading the phrase “error breeds sense” in an online manifesto written by Turner, LaBeouf contacted the artists and together they devised their first piece. Their debut installation, #IAMSORRY “involved LaBeouf sitting silently in a room with a paper bag inscribed with ‘I AM NOTFAMOUS ANYMORE’ over his head; visitors entered one-by-one after choosing an object from a selection provided - which included a pink ukulele, a whip and print-outs of abusive tweets – with which to interact with LaBeouf,” explains Co-Art author Ellen Mara De Wachter. However, not all of LaBeouf’s colleagues supported this venture.
“Brad Pitt said to me, ‘What the fuck are you doing, kid?” the star explains in our new book. Rönkkö and Turner’s colleagues were equally dismissive. “The response appeared to be: you can make work about Hollywood, but you can’t actually be in Hollywood and be serious artists. That was the sense I got from my colleagues,” says Rönkkö.
Nevertheless, the three persevered, creating works that have captured the public’s attention both online and in the real world. In 2015 they recorded #Introductions, a series of 36 short introductions performed by LaBeouf for the graduation projects of fine art students at Central Saint Martins.
In 2016 the trio staged #TAKEMEANYWHERE, a collaborative hitch hike, where the artists tweeted their GPS coordinates and accepted lifts from which drivers arrived first.
Earlier this month, at 9am on 20 January 2017, LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner installed He Will Not Divide Us, a livestream from a camera mounted onto the outside wall of the Museum of the Moving Image in New York. The work, staged to coincide with President Trump’s inauguration and opened by fellow film star Jaden Smith, encourages visitors to say the words “he will not divide us” into the camera lens.
“Open to all, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the participatory performance will be live-streamed continuously for four years, or the duration of the presidency,” the artists explained. “In this way, the mantra "HE WILL NOT DIVIDE US" acts as a show of resistance or insistence, opposition or optimism, guided by the spirit of each individual participant and the community.”
"HE WILL NOT DIVIDE US" isn’t a flawless work. Already, LaBeouf and co. have had to see off quite a few trolls and antagonists. Yet, in an age of individualism LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner have found a way to re-engage with mass public protest, both online and off, while proving that movie stars still work best in a team.
For greater insight into LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner's work and others, order a copy of Co- Art: Artists on Creative Collaboration here. And if you're looking for more examples of how artists both celebrated and unknown have resisted the powers that be in recent times, check out Liz McQuiston's scholarly but thoroughly readable and copiously illustrated Visual Impact Creative Dissent in the 21st Century.