What happens when Hollywood superstar turned contemporary artist Shia LaBeouf runs a telephone hotline? C. James Fagan called to find out…
There’s something strange going on… well, strange is the wrong word. Unusual perhaps, even within the world of art. At the time of writing the actor Shia LaBeouf is currently taking telephone calls from members of the public. He’s inviting people to #TOUCHMYSOUL. It all forms part of FACT’s (Liverpool) new exhibition Follow, which sets out sets out to explore how identity is formed in the Information age.
It is a collaborative effort with artists and Central Saint Martins graduates Nastja Säde Rönkkö and Luke Turner, who have been working with LaBeouf since 2014; most recently on the endurance piece #ALLMYMOVIES. That one where LaBeouf watched the entirety of his oeuvre. What’s exactly happening with #TOUCHMYSOUL, I’m unsure; I’m catching parts on my phone while I’m at work. A glance at social media tells me that LaBeouf’s activities have begun to spread throughout the Internet, and press — the Independent to something called Unilad — have posted about it.
This would seem to chime with Follow’s exhibition themes.
But what are meant to do? Obviously call the number, and watch the live stream, which shows you what might be the smallest, most pastel-coloured call centre ever. Looking at this while being aware of the stream of LaBeouf-related posts creates a sense of dislocation. That this is happening elsewhere in the world, not a 15 minute walk away from my workplace in Liverpool.
This aside, what are you supposed to do? What is my role in this, when (or if) I decided to give Shia a bell? There is a sense of excitement, starfuckery almost, about being granted access to a ‘movie star’. Are you to enact the typical fanboy role? I’m sure many of us have indulged in a celebrity friend fantasy. Whether that be actor, musician, artist, we tend to confuse the enjoyment we gain from their work as a connection. Through this we create a personal simulacrum from that celebrity; an imaginary friend that other people would recognise.
This relationship is, most defintely, one-way. Not only created by the experience of their work, which can often be an act of singular intimacy, it is also reinforced by the promotion of famous people as likeable, interesting people. All with the aim of jollying us into buying a film ticket/album/cookbook. This is now accelerated, thanks to the fact that you can have direct contact with that star, thanks to social networks.
That imaginary friendship you have with your favourite actor, musician or journalist has the appearance of something real. Scoring a retweet or a reply from a ‘star’ becomes an affirmation. This is the landscape that #TOUCHMYSOUL inhabits. Which raises the question of LaBeouf’s role in this, as the progenitor, subject or ‘medium’ of this piece. There is no doubt that the attention that #TOUCHMYSOUL is getting will feed into a media-born narrative about LaBeouf’s recent ‘eccentric’ output. The idea of this new performance as art is often a secondary concern, depending on which media outlet is covering the story.
Or how they wish to form the clickbait to drive that all important traffic to their site.
I’ve written all of this before even actually attempting to call the Shia Hotline. My hand is hovering over the handset. So should l? It seems the right thing to do, to actually experience the piece. Though it feels like I’m already involved as a distant observer. Even after making the choice to make the call, I still have the sense that I’m an observer. Maybe it comes from a sense of impassivity, as I don’t expect to get through.
I find a quiet place and call the number. As with anytime I dial a number for the first time, especially to someone I don’t know, the butterflies take flight in the pit of my stomach. This is almost immediately quelled by rapid bleeping and a banal accouncement:
I try again and get the same results. Do I keep on trying? No, I have mundane things to get on with. I’m disappointed… no, in being rejected feels like a completion of the piece. That within this automatic process we see the realities of the celebrity friend simulacrum. The instruments that deny me contact with LaBeouf highlight the fallacy of open communication in this digital age.
Anyway, I still have no idea what to say to him, even if I did get through. Peraps: “I didn’t think Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was that bad”? Maybe me and Shia should stay imaginary friends.
Could just hit redial though…
C. James Fagan
You can call #TOUCHMYSOUL, by LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner, on +44 (0)151 808 0771 from 11am-6pm GMT until Sunday 13 December 2015
The project will also be broadcast live for the duration at touchmysoul.net
See the #TOUCHMYSOUL project live at FACT Liverpool until Sunday 13 December 2015; visit the Follow exhibition from Friday 11 December 2015 to Sunday 21 February 2016 – FREE
Read Follow curator Amy Jones’ thoughts on the themes of the show: All The World’s A Stage: Social Media, Performance And ‘Authenticity’