Friday, 27 January 2017

#HeWillNotDivideUs: First Impressions

A single video camera hangs from a wall on 37th Street in New York, beaming live pictures around planet Earth, for anyone to see. It was activated last week and shall continue for the next four years. But what is the significance of this one shot; what is this little camera hoping to capture?

"He Will Not Divide Us" (#hewillnotdivideus) is the latest experimental social art project published under the name of anti-celebrity Shia Saide LaBeouf.

Yes, Shia LaBeouf. Once the uninteresting star of Michael Bay's TRANSFORMERS trilogy, now one of the weirdest and most unpredictable contemporary celebrities.

LaBeouf has been a strange fellow, neck deep in drama and run-ins with police for over a decade, but the turning point in the LaBeouf saga, in my view, was Rob Cantor's music video from a few years back about the "Actual Cannibal Shia LaBeouf".

From that point on, LaBeouf was no longer just a Hollywood performer, but also a man with a mythic aura. Shia surprise, indeed.

Then came his stunts, of which there are many. Most notable are probably #ALLMYMOVIES and I AM NOT FAMOUS ANYMORE.

Now comes Shia's latest, and most ambitious, livestream project. A four year long livestream in protest of the presidency of Donald Trump.

Wow. The guy does not disappoint.

Just like all of Shia's livestreams, #HEWILLNOTDIVIDEUS is weird. Really weird. In some ways it's difficult to see the point. And I can't help but wonder if it will cause more harm than good. Will this project against division in fact carve a deeper divide?

But the livestream at least sees the return of one of my favourite LaBeauf Stream themes: the mockery of fame itself. In many of his livestream projects, but particularly in this latest, Shia captures a powerful moment, again and again, unwittingly portrayed by ordinary folk who wanted to be anything but. It's the moment when they realise it's all meaningless. Many of these people came onto the livestream to reach the stars. To be seen by thousands. And they get that, easily. But then life goes on. And LaBeouf's intentionally long livestream ticks on and on. And slowly they realise how shallow it all is. That they'd rather be back home, back in their smaller but richer lives. You can see it slowly run across their faces. "Why am I here?" Then, hollow-faced, they slowly begin to walk away from the camera. But they pause several times as they go, struggling to come to terms with the dream of easy fame they're leaving behind.

Some super bored people on Shia's #allmymovies livestream

Shia mocks fame further simply by showing up. By being right there, where we can all see him, where we can all go right up to him, he breaks down invisible walls that Hollywood has placed between actors and regular people for many years.

I like LaBeouf's projects because they're different. They're inventive. They're strange and unpredictable. And they make effortless use of modern technology; these projects would not have been possible 15 years ago.

This is a huge project. I can't imagine all of the mayhem this camera is going to capture over the next four years. Place a hidden camera on any street in the world and you will see strange stuff. That's only going to be heightened for this highly-publicised camera in New York.

Already I have seen dancing, singing, arguing, bonding and spiritual chanting. From the little I have watched, it seems like pizza delivery "from the UK" is a regular occurrence. I've seen a lot of Shia, some of Jaden Smith, and a bunch of police cars. In fact just yesterday, Shia was arrested by police for allegedly getting into a fight with a man who was saying "Hitler did nothing wrong". Hands up if you saw this coming.

Only once have I tuned in to see no one on the street. Most often the frame is well-populated, even in the dead of American night. So whatever happens over the next four years, Shia has certainly created another successful weird social experiment, which I'll keep an eye on with wary interest.

UPDATE (12/02/17): Welp, that didn't last long. Shia LaBeouf's anti-Trump livestream has been shut down for public safety. Unsurprising, and sounds very fair, but it's hard not to be a little disappointed.

UPDATE (21/02/17): Aaaaand it's back. Relocated to New Mexico. Pretty close to a road. Think I just saw some people nearly get run down by a car. What is this.

UPDATE (25/02/17): Aaaaaaaaaaaaaand it's gone again, after gunshots.