Many of the people who travelled with LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner have described the groups with whom they traveled as “tribes.” People who never travelled with the artists, and instead only followed them and wrote about them on Twitter, have also talked about themselves as if they are members of a common “tribe.”
If I asked the participants, perhaps some would say that each separate group that traveled with the artists was a separate tribe. Perhaps they would say that there were many different “tribes” involved in the project, each with different membership. But I’m going to write about the project as if all of the participants belong to a common tribe. That way of writing feels genuine to me. I’m going to call the common tribe “#TribeLRT.”
In this creative essay, I will explore why, at least metaphorically, those who participated in #TAKEMEANYWHERE, both in person and on Twitter, are members of a common tribe. As I do, I will also continue to tell the stories of participants, like Jacky, involved in the project. My intention is to provide an account of the project that is personal to the participants. Likewise, I will focus on details of the project that make it seem profound to me. That is the best way I know to reflect on the project’s artistic and philosophical significance.
When I reflect on the notion of tribes, I won’t be looking for an accurate definition of the term “tribe.” Likewise, I will not be concerned with providing an accurate description of any given, real tribe. Instead, I will be more interested in how tribes have been imagined and viewed over time, truthfully or not. I will contend that we can think of the artists and participants in #TAKEMEANYWHERE in some of the same ways that many people have thought about tribes.
Theorists note that many people have imagined tribes to have positive characteristics that some harsh, big cities lack. Right or wrong, many think of tribespeople as being especially loyal to one another and as displaying ties of close kinship. Actually, anthropologists suggest that tribespeople often have, in fact, regarded one another as relatives. Similarly, many respected works of literature portray tribespeople as loyal and devoted friends. Authors have also imagined tribespeople behaving with beautiful spontaneity. The word “tribe” has been associated with warm, folk-oriented society, which stands in contrast to the cold regimentation associated with big cities. Tribes are seen as a foil to modern culture. Some anthropologists argue that many tribespeople have, in fact, developed their identity as members of a common tribe because they commonly rejected the values of the society surrounding them.
Below, I will argue that #TAKEMEANYWHERE created groups of people who developed metaphorical kinship ties – strong emotional connections developed within a short timeframe. I will also contend that #TAKEMEANYWHERE was a beautiful project in part because of the trust, spontaneity, and loyalty — all metaphorically “tribal” — demonstrated by LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner. Because the artists were so open, warm and trusting, many of the project’s participants were also able, themselves, to be trusting and open and develop strong ties.
Some theorists have tried to distinguish one tribe from another on the basis of their language, with each tribe, by definition, possessing a distinct language or dialect that separates it from other tribes. Other historians and anthropologists have argued that we can distinguish between tribes on the basis of their art and culture. Some theorists have argued, for instance, that members of a particular tribe might recognize meaning in a work of art that members of a very different society, far away, would never see. If these theorists are right, we might gain at least a very rough sense of a person’s society or tribe by determining what art he or she finds compelling and why.
No doubt, art from distant cultures and tribes can still be largely accessible to us, even if we are, to a great extent, ignorant of the art’s sociohistorical context. Many people in Western society, for instance, find beautiful both Chinese paintings and carpets from the Middle East. Arguably, then, the West and the East share a transcultural sense of the aesthetic. Certain aesthetic qualities might appeal to people everywhere, regardless of culture. Still, even if all this is true, anthropologists might nonetheless be right that people from different societies sometimes view the same work of art differently. Grant that many people from distant societies find a particular work of tribal art beautiful and largely accessible. Nonetheless, members of that tribe might recognize symbols in that work of art, or grasp some portion of its meaning or significance, that the vast majority of outsiders do not. If so, we might, at least roughly, distinguish between different tribes and societies by attending to the meaning and significance they see in art that so few else recognize.
Below, I will argue that we might think that participants in #TAKEMEANYWHERE metaphorically “speak the same language.” I will also argue that we might treat them as members of a common tribe because of their common ability to recognize meaning and value in the same artistic project.