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Saturday, February 15, 2014

Shia LaBeouf's Misguided Concept Art: A Day in the Line at #IAMSORRY

by Kari Tervo

Shia La Beouf has been annoying me for months now. First I heard that he plagiarized like, an entire graphic novel by Daniel Clowes. Then I heard that he plagiarized Tiger Woods and Robert McNamara in issuing "apologies" on Twitter. I instantly smelled a rat. There is no way anyone would plagiarize in the course of apologizing for plagiarism. This, I said to myself, is an "artiste" who is trying to "teach" us something. And I became annoyed, because who is Shia LaBeouf to teach me anything? I've never seen any of his movies, and I couldn't pick him out of a lineup, but he's taking it upon himself to make some kind of "point" to the public? About what? Fame and creativity, I guess. 

Where have we heard that before? Remember when Joaquin Phoenix was all weird on Letterman and engaging in far too much beardery and whatnot? And then it all turned out to be for his documentary, I'm Still Here. Which I did not see and will not see, because I simply cannot tolerate it when celebrities get all high-falutin-patootin' on themselves and start thinking they have something to say to their public.

That's the feeling I was getting from Shia LaBoeuf's antics pretty early on in this thing. I tweeted him as such on December 18, 2013, when his "plagiarized" Woods and McNamara tweets were reported:

Naw, now you're just trolling us with the copied Tiger Woods and Robert McNamara quotes. Is this really Joaquin Phoenix?

Like, I am onto you.


And since then, he's engaged in more ridiculousness I don't even care to recount here. The probable culmination of his "performance art project"/troll job is his #IAMSORRY "exhibition" at Stephen Cohen gallery in Los Angeles. His "piece," which is apparently also a rip-off of a pretty surrrious 1974 performance art piece, encourages visitors to choose an object and sit in isolation with Shia, who is wearing a bag over his head with #I AM NOT FAMOUS ANYMORE scrawled across the front, two creepy eye holes being the visitor's only glimpse into the vortex of self-aggrandizement that is Shia LaBeouf's mind. And you can say anything you want to him.

Yes I said yes I will Yes. I would like to go and tell Shia LaBeouf exactly what I think of him and his irritating project. Then I thought, well, this is an interesting opportunity, to tell off a celebrity in person. So I planned out a little program in which I would enter the room with a flourish, rapping the first verse of "Jump Around" by House of Pain. Then I'd give him my feedback on his exhibit: A pointed, yet gentle discussion of the ineffectiveness of his artistic choices. Then, I'd perform an original rap for him and give him a couple of issues of my humor zine. Hey, if I have to suffer through this guy's art, he has to suffer through mine. I hoped that through this interaction, I would not only get to voice my opinion, but enjoy a pretty unique experience.

I headed to the gallery on the afternoon of Thursday, February 13th. Arriving at about 2 pm, the line was wrapped around the block, with about 100 well-behaved hipsters of various ages, shapes, and beard configurations milling around in the line.

The line was not brisk in the least. A woman at the front of the line finally entered. A friendly security guard informed me that she had been there since 9 am.

It was 2:30 pm. The exhibit ended at 6 pm. I had a feeling I was not going to get inside, but the security guard explained that the end time depended entirely on Shia's whims. He might want to go until 9:00. So I stuck around, realizing the line itself was a spectacle in its own right. Though my fellow line-dwellers were mostly in conversation with each other, there was a line-cutter (who I tried to shoo away until he social-engineered the teenage girls behind me), a guy repeatedly hitting people up for dollars and pissing off the security guards, and another dude selling fun decorated bottle openers. I picked up a nifty Nyan Cat one as a souvenir of the whole experience. I gave the guy Sacajawea dollar coins, all I had on me. He grinned and said, "Yeah! I'll take doubloons!"

One of the writers who Shia plagiarized appeared with fliers detailing his violation. He was accompanied by an assistant with a diagrammed poster board of the lines he had written, but that Shia had tweeted in his own name. This guy was pissed. I would be too, if I were one of the people plagiarized. Even if it's apparent that Shia is pulling a troll job, it can't be fun to be a non-famous person whose words are appropriated by a celebrity. I told the artist that I'm a writer too and wanted to give Shia a couple issues of my zine. "Oh!" he said. "Shia writes zines too. Here's a copy of his." He thought a moment, brightened, then tore a page out, scrawled his own name on it in Sharpie--SCOTCH--and handed it to me. It was a beautiful moment.

Scotch performing LaBeouf-based performance art. I'm not sure why he has hamburgers strapped to his feet.
The guy in front of me in line happened to be a reporter for Entertainment Weekly. He did a quick interview with me, which you can find as part of this EW On The Scene report. I'm the "woman who claimed to be a clinical psychologist," which is a statement that has a lot packed into it. The reporter asked me if I had concerns about Shia's mental health, but he didn't entirely accurately portray what I said, probably because it sounded like kajld;jfad;lfjsakjladsjf;ad to a dude standing still in the beating sunshine. So I will take this opportunity to clarify: Of course I have concerns about Shia's mental health. In any case in which someone is behaving in an apparently self-destructive fashion, there's reason to look further. At the same time, what he's doing is clearly based on a long-term plan: He's progressed with several concepts (fame, originality) and steps ("plagiarized" tweets, gallery exhibit). Also, he personally shopped his proposal around to a number of galleries before finding one that would accept the project. This is a complicated endeavor that someone with serious active mood or psychotic symptoms probably could not engage in successfully.

But omg I was interviewed by Entertainment Weekly! Oh! And one of my friends told me he saw me on TV! This is what every young rural Michigander dreams of. Or at least me.

Three o'clock rolls around, and I hear a burst of applause. Someone else has finally entered the building! I inch forward a few steps on the sidewalk. A few seconds later, I heard gasps in the crowd--Ian Ziering from the original Beverly Hills, 90210 had rolled up in his car, some actor from The Walking Dead in the passenger seat, to chat with a dude in line. I found this very exciting. Did you know Steve is bald now?

Every so often, people towards the front of the line would get discouraged and bail. I also found this very exciting, because this increased my chances of getting in by 6:00. However, despite the general grumbling in line about how long people were taking inside ("anywhere from 10 minutes to 2 hours," the guard told me), people kept taking a long time. "No more than 10 minutes!" people shouted at a woman before she entered. She nodded in empathy and understanding.

Forty-five minutes later, she still had not emerged.

By 4:30, security was telling people who showed up that there was pretty much no chance they were getting in. Security was great. They were friendly, attentive, and professional. They were the best kind of event security. They even kept their friendly cool when dealing with the guy who kept trying to get dollars from people.

At 5:55 pm, I was about 17 people back in line. I held out hope. Alas, at 6 pm on the dot, the front-door guard announced, "I'm sorry to tell you we are done for the day. Thank you for coming." The crowd groaned, but dissipated quickly, many after taking a few selfies in front of the gallery exhibit sign. I was exhausted from basically standing in one place for four hours, but I couldn't leave without dropping off my zines. The guard accepted them with the warning that Shia may not accept them, but that was good enough for me. I did not return the next day, even knowing that I would get in if I showed up super-early. Just standing in that line had been a unique experience.

This is the kind of photo you get when you stand in line for four hours in the sun.
I think that Joaquin--oops, I mean Shia--is being disingenuous in this long-term performance art project, and that's the main thing that irritates me about it. He knows what he's doing, we know what he's doing, and he knows we know he knows what he's doing, but he still won't cop to it. He's taking advantage of the public's attention to obtusely make some weak point about creativity and fame. It's an abuse of our attention, and I think he could more proactively, thoughtfully, and effectively develop and share his points on these topics. 

At the same time, what was I doing there if his project irritates me so much? I did enjoy the idea of telling him what I think of his rather rude project, sharing my rapping and my writing with a celebrity, and participating in a performance art project. Those are really cool opportunities, and I'm pleased I took part. The line itself was performance art.

If I am wrong about Shia LaBeouf and his long con performance-art piece, if there is some honest brilliance in this apparent troll job, I will be willing to entertain his truth. And I will express to him that #IAMSORRY. 

Oops, is that hash tag already taken?

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