Jacky Petters only spent about four hours involved with #TAKEMEANYWHERE – the time it took for a boat to ferry cars across Lake Michigan. Days later, she regretted that, during that time, she did not make a greater connection with LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner. She felt that too much of what she talked about with them she could also have heard in interviews. She regretted that she hadn’t asked about the kinds of things you learn when you form a true relationship with someone. What video games do they play? What are their favorite movies from 2015? What are their favorite memories?
Whenever they isolated themselves with just a few participants, LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner created a space in which those participants could develop meaningful connections and real relationships with them. Those who most quickly arrived at the coordinates the artists posted, and were able to take them anywhere, had the opportunity to form genuine friendships with the artists.
Rachel Bewley, who has managed a family farm in Tennessee for nearly a decade since finishing college, graciously let me interview her about her experiences with #TAKEMEANYWHERE. I first met Rachel at a gallery reception I helped to organize at Colorado State University-Pueblo, where Luke and Nastja exhibited some of their collaborative work. Since then, Rachel and I have been friends. I was truly thrilled for her, when I learned that she was the first to arrive at a set of coordinates the artists had posted, and would have the opportunity to take them anywhere. Rachel found LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner in Florida, and eventually drove them north to her home in Tennessee, after stopping, along the way, to take a guided tour of the caves at Florida Caverns State Park.
But before they eventually reached her home in Tennessee, they had to overcome challenges. Rachel was driving them on I-10, about thirty miles west of Tallahassee, Florida. They were just about to turn off the highway, when Rachel suddenly felt the steering wheel pull hard to the right and saw a bunch of lights light up on her dashboard. Rachel writes that, “It was quite scary. I immediately had to get off the road, safely, right now, and also not freak-out and scare everyone.” As she pulled off the road, she said, “Guys, there is something wrong with the car.” She pulled off onto a grassy stretch along the side of the road. It was a semi-wooded area, and there wasn’t much around.
The artists assured Rachel that they had purchased coverage with Triple-A for exactly this sort of problem. Rachel was impressed by how quickly the artists responded. They called for a tow truck before she even confirmed what was wrong with her car.
Rachel recalls that, before she even turned off her car, two more vehicles – which held six passengers in their twenties and thirties – joined them on the side of the road. Both of the vehicles were part of the caravan of cars and trucks that followed LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner across the country. During #TAKEMEANYWHERE, those who drove LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner were often followed by a small caravan of other vehicles and people who hoped to participate in the project, themselves.
Four of the caravan members, who had originally followed LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner in two separate vehicles, had at some point decided to travel together in the same truck. They had been complete strangers before #TAKEMEANYWHERE, but had developed friendships as they traveled across the country in pursuit of the artists. Rachel writes that she thought their travelling together was, “really cool, because they didn’t know each other, before.”
Rachel had already met everyone in the caravan. A day earlier, Rachel had arrived at coordinates the artists posted in Louisiana, but she was too late, and the artists were gone. But Rachel did, at those coordinates, meet a number of other people who were looking for the artists, including four of the people who had joined her on the side of the road. They had talked together a bit, and had exchanged Twitter handles. They were all friendly with each other, if a little competitive, because they were all searching for LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner. Rachel had also met the other two people who joined her on the side of the road. They had shown up at Florida Caverns State Park, and the whole group had gone down into the caves together.
Everyone got out of Rachel’s car, and Luke took up his video camera and started filming everything. Rachel popped the hood of her car and looked at her engine, and was soon joined by several of the guys from the caravan, who had their own tools. One of them even climbed beneath her car to see what was wrong. They figured out that her right front wheel bearing had gone out, and all they could do was wait for a tow truck.
Rachel says that she felt stressed and tried to stay busy. She kept leaving the group, walking a short distance away to call her mechanic or her husband, trying to figure out what was going on, and what was going to happen next.
In my interview with her, she told me, “I figured that my disabled car was the end of the ride.” She said, “Everyone was so nice and supportive,” and she felt like it was a very comfortable space that everyone had created. But deep down, initially, she also felt a sense of a ticking clock. The project would soon be done. “Oh wow. That’s too bad. My trip is over.” But the three artists quickly reassured her. She got a sense that they would be willing to keep traveling with her the following day, when her car got fixed, and she was grateful that they wouldn’t let her trip end in crisis.
Meanwhile, on the side of the road, the group had developed into something a lot like a tailgate party. “Food and beverages appeared out of nowhere,” Rachel notes. They all had different snacks and drinks in their cars, and they all shared them with each other. “Everyone got out and we just hung out until the tow truck came. Luke was working the camera. Some people were sitting in the back of the truck. Other people were hanging out in the grass. We were just kind of hanging out, waiting for the tow truck. It was a really nice moment.”
For the hour it took, for the tow truck to arrive, the group shared a number of casual conversations. They introduced themselves to each other, and talked about themselves, where they were from, their projects, and their occupations. Rachel said that it “was like meeting people at a small party.”
That night, after the tow truck came, everyone from the caravan and tailgating party stayed overnight at the same motel in Tallahassee, and they all ate dinner together at a Denny’s nearby. Rachel says that she appreciated how close everyone in the group became in such a short time. The project brought them altogether, and quickly created strong ties. Because of how open and trusting the artists were with everyone they met, everyone was open and trusting in return. “There was so much real openness and love that everyone wanted to be in.” Rachel felt that #TAKEMEANYWHERE “really created this amazing sense of community and support.”
Imagine that you are driving in a state you rarely visit, on a road you don’t know well, and suddenly your car breaks down. Usually, no matter who you’re with, the experience sucks! It’s awful! After listening to Rachel talk about her experiences, I personally find it remarkable how different Rachel’s experience was from my own, rather ordinary breakdowns. She was quickly joined by a group of people she already knew, who shared food and drinks together and had a mini tailgating party. There is something really wild about this – a tailgating party by a broken down car on the side of a road in Florida with Shia Labeouf, Nastja Säde Rönkkö, and Luke Turner. It seems surreal. Yet #TAKEMEANYWHERE helped created the kinds of real connections between people that made such an event possible. People who had been complete strangers before #TAKEMEANYWHERE were now traveling together, breaking bread together, and building lasting connections. Now, several months after #TAKEMEANYWHERE, Rachel remarks, “The feeling that is so unexpected is that I still feel a connection with all of the people I met, and I would like to meet everyone involved with the project.”
I would like to argue that we can, at least metaphorically, think of the connections everyone made as ties of close kinship. That is, I think we can assert that, at least metaphorically, the participants and artists involved in #TAKEMEANYWHERE became something like kin. Anthropologists note that, in many tribes, once a person is adopted into a tribe, he becomes like a family member to everyone else, even if she does not actually share blood with them. Membership in the tribe guarantees membership in a common family. If one is adopted into the Wolf tribe, all male tribesmen from the same generation become one’s brothers. It feels right to talk about #TAKEMEANYWHERE with the same sort of language, at least in a broad, metaphorical sense. When participants engage with the project and are genuinely open, receptive and connected to it, they establish metaphorical kinship ties with one another, and become members of a common tribe.