Robert, Rachel’s husband who works with her on their farm in Tennessee, first met LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner when they arrived at the farm after Rachel drove them up from Florida. Robert writes that, “Shia engaged with me a little more at first, though later on Luke did just as much of the talking. Nastja was quieter, but definitely very present. They all seemed to be in good spirits, in spite of the stressful couple of days.”
Robert writes that the artists spent the night “on our farm, in an old farmhouse. It’s a big, rambling, 2-floor house, pretty old, and it has a lot of character – the kind of character that for some people is charming and for others, downright haunted. LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner seemed to fall on the ‘charming’ side of that spectrum.”
Robert and Rachel have been restoring the old farmhouse, where the artists stayed, for the last eight years. Rachel writes, that “the farmhouse is an old two-story house which was built in the 1800s.” She adds that when she and Robert moved to the farm after college, “it was run down.” They had to “rip out layers of crap,” and strip the house down, in order to “find the soul of the house.” Rachel says that it was because of the soul of the house, that they “didn’t want to tear it down in the first place.”
Typically, when fans seek out an artist, writer, or band, the fans pay to go to some public place where the artist is exhibiting, the writer is speaking, or the band is playing. Even so-called “groupies” typically go only where the artists invite them. The relationship between artists and fans is one-sided. The artist determines where they are going and what they are doing, and the fans follow. #TAKEMEANYWHERE was anything but the typical “fan” relationship. It was so much – infinitely – more personal. It wasn’t a fan relationship at all. It was a relationship between people, as people. LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner visited people’s homes – homes that people cared about and had poured themselves into. And the artists participated in activities chosen by the participants in #TAKEMEANYWHERE. It wasn’t solely up to the artists. It was up to the community.
The following morning, Nastja, Rachel, Shia, Robert, and Luke casually talked and walked around, mostly on the porch outside the farmhouse. The farm stretched out around them. Because the farm is located in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, the mountains also have a real and constant presence there. As Rachel says, it is “really easy just to sit and stare at the mountains.”
They had conversations about a wide variety of topics. Robert writes that: “I remember at one point, Shia and Rachel were in the kitchen talking about her grandfather, and Luke and I were sitting out on the porch talking about thermodynamics. Then for a long time, we sat at the patio table in the hot sun having an intense discussion about feminism.” They talked about Rachel’s family, about the relationship between the three artists, about physics, metaphysics, and about different ways of seeing the world and finding common ground between different perspectives.
Rachel and Robert gave the artists breakfast. Much of what they ate was grown on the farm itself. Robert grows a ton of different fruits and vegetables on the farm, and he and Rachel are constantly involved in gardening projects.
The opposite of the traditional fan-artist relationship, the relationships the artists developed with the participants in #TAKEMEANYWHERE were truly organic. They were not top-down, organized by the artists, but instead arose spontaneously as a mix of the different participants and artists involved. How often does a typical artist hang out with project participants at their family farm, drinking coffee, talking about metaphysics, and eating fresh fruits and vegetables? We might think that the typical fan-artist relationship, or “groupie” relationship, is only a one-way relationship. The artist is too much in control. And so there is no way for them to truly get to know those who come to see them. In contrast, the relationships in #TAKEMEANYWHERE were genuinely two-way relationships. They were just as personal as the participants and artists could make them. Everyone made decisions and acted together without pre-established, purely top-down plans.
Reflecting on the work of LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner, Robert makes a similar sort of point. He notes that the artists’ work is open and allows genuine cooperation and collaboration, without too much being determined solely by the artists themselves. Robert writes that because of how open their work is, the artists occupy a space that is “something more like an ecosystem, a network of connections with hierarchy but no top-down determinism.” Robert notes that because there are so many connections formed in each of their projects, and because of the ways their projects interrelate, they have created an ecosystem that “grows and grows.” He understands why people want to be part of that ecosystem. It means so much to form genuine connections with one another, to be part of something bigger, something that is meaningfully art. The artists are involved in a growing ecosystem, and many people want to “engage and be involved in the growth.”
One of the many things I find remarkable about the work of LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner is how many other artists have been involved with their projects and workshops. For their project #INTRODUCTIONS, for instance, they invited a large number of art students to write scripts for Shia to perform in front of a green screen. They then encouraged those students to put whatever images or videos they wanted behind Shia as he spoke. In #TAKEMEANYWHERE, a lot of the people who picked up LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner were artists in their own right. Jacky, for instance, is an artist who focuses on photography and graphic design.
On a separate note, I recently had the opportunity to attend a gallery exhibition of the work of another artist, Kate Fox, whom I originally met when we both participated in a workshop led by Nastja.
I was impressed by the wonderful work Kate does in ceramics, and by the films she co-created with Gabe Wolff that feature her ceramic creations. The artists who participate in the projects of LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner are often excellent artists, themselves.
It seems appropriate to me that LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner often surround themselves with artists, in no small part because of the kind of energy the three artists have and how they present themselves. I remember once describing to someone the way that Luke sits, and saying, “Luke sits like an artist.” I instantly knew that my description wasn’t very clear or helpful! Yet it’s hard to avoid descriptions like this.
Still, I was surprised when Rachel told me how similar Luke, Nastja, and Shia were, as people. I’m not sure why – perhaps because of Shia’s public presence – but I had mistakenly imagined that he was a lot different from Luke and Nastja.
Rachel says that while the artists visited with her and her husband at the farm, she felt “completely open.” I love the way she puts this: “I feel like it’s a rare experience in my life, to feel so at ease hanging out with a group of people, any people. And so there was a constant sense of comfort, but also . . . like . . . awe. I couldn’t believe that this was happening, and not only is this happening, but it’s just so great. It’s a little hard to bring these conflicting feelings together. It was incredible, and also completely mundane in a way.”