Part IV: The Romantic Tribe

Much of our world, however, is dark.  Many lives are bleak.  Many others, though happy, end in tragedy.  In 2008, the artist Pippa Bacca was raped and murdered as she hitchhiked across Turkey.  She was strangled to death, and her naked body was found near the village of Gebze, around forty miles from Istanbul.

At the time of her death, Pippa Bacca, whose given name is Giuseppina Pasqualino di Marineo, was in the middle of a performance art piece called “Brides on Tour.”  Together with her friend, the artist Silvia Moro, they planned to hitchhike across portions of Europe and the Middle East while wearing white wedding dresses.  The dresses were meant to represent the metaphorical marriage between peoples and nations.  At the end of the trip, the dresses were meant to be displayed at an art gallery in Italy, together with photos and mementos from the trip.  Their plan was to hitchhike, sometimes alone and sometimes together, through portions of Italy, Bosnia, Turkey, Serbia, Syria, and Lebanon before arriving in Israel.  They carried no guns or weapons to protect themselves, they had no safety net, and they traveled only with complete strangers.

They began their hitchhiking project, departing from Milano on March 8th, which is International Working Woman’s Day.  Arguably, their project was meant, at least in part, to draw attention to Woman’s Day, and lead its audience to think about its significance.  We might understand their own acts of risk-taking, in hitchhiking alone with strangers, as reflective of the risks taken by the historical women whose achievements and struggles advanced women’s rights.   As they hitchhiked, Moro periodically stopped and asked women to embroider patterns on her wedding dress.  Bacca intended to meet with midwives along the way and wash their feet.  She said that washing their feet was meant “to honor their profession, which is to bring life into being.”  Once they reached Tel-Aviv, they intended to ceremonially wash the wedding dresses, and, in doing so, “wash away traces of war.”  So the project highlighted women, their accomplishments and rights, and their relations to global conflict and strife.

Pippa Bacca and Silvia Moro during “Brides on Tour”

It is extraordinarily sad that Pippa Bacca was abused and killed during this project.  As a human – with emotions – it is impossible for me to feel anything other than sad about this.  The way she was treated is horrifying.  Since I also know that her project was intended to honor women and focus on their rights, the project seems to gain an extra tinge of tragedy, if it is possible for the project to be any more tragic at all.

In light of global politics, many have perceived the artists and their project, “Brides on Tour,” as naïve.  Perhaps they were.  But if they were, then it was a chosen naivety.  Bacca and Moro were clearly aware of the dangers of traveling on the road, and if their project seems over-idealistic and naïve, they must have chosen this mindset, arguably in opposition to the reality of the world.  We might conceive their action – choosing to be naïve – as an act of defiance against the traditionally passive role imposed on women through much of the world.

Is it true that women have to live in a world in which they can’t be trusting? Is it true that women have to live in a world in which they perceive they cannot do anything to end wars, and the struggles between people?  It was as if Bacca and Morro cried out, “No!  No!”  They chose, instead – naively? – to act as if art can change the world, and as if the acts of individual women, not directly involved in traditional political machinery, can make a difference.

The mission statement for “Brides on Tour”, which the artists reportedly posted on a website that is no longer accessible, reads:  “Hitchhiking is choosing to have faith in other human beings, and man, like a small god, rewards those who have faith in him.”  Arguably, too, Bacca and Moro needed for the project to be truly spontaneous, and to be determined largely by the strangers who picked them up.  How can you really get to know people or genuinely trust others, if you only ever meet them in controlled, regimented situations?  The artists deliberately chose naivety and chose to be trusting.  Bacca’s sister says of her that:  “She thought that in the world there were more positive than negative people, and that it was right to be trusting.”  She added that, “Trust is a very human factor, and she believed that to understand people, you had to get to know them.”

I have not seen LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner compare #TAKEMEANYWHERE to “Brides on Tour.”  Nonetheless, LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner use the same sort of language to describe #TAKEMEANYWHERE that Bacca, Moro, and others have used to describe “Brides on Tour.”  In an interview with the staff of VICE, Nastja said of #TAKEMEANYWHERE that “it’s about trust.”  She added that her ambition with the project was “to connect.”  Luke affirmed similar ideas: “We’re putting all our trust in the collective – they’re deciding, they’re determining what unfolds.” Shia noted the artists’ lack of top-down control and the project’s spontaneity, saying:  “We don’t really know where the show is going to take us.”  Further, and perhaps most strikingly in comparison to “Brides on Tour,” Luke and Shia both emphasized the deliberate role of naivety in their project.  Shia remarked:  “With these projects, we try to retain a naivety – or that’s the goal.  The goal is to sorta stay naïve, stay impressionable, stay malleable.” Luke added:  “It’s an informed naivety.”

No doubt, #TAKEMEANYWHERE is in many ways radically different from “Brides on Tour.” First, many of their themes are different, with “Brides on Tour” focusing much more expressly on women’s rights and International Working Women’s Day.  Also, Pippa Bacca was traveling alone at the time she was killed, while LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner always traveled together.  Additionally, their GPS coordinates were very frequently tracked live and viewable on the Internet.  Many people always knew at least roughly where the three artists were.  In addition, as mentioned above, the three artists were often followed by mini-caravans of cars and trucks, who knew where they were with even greater detail.

Pippa Bacca took a ride with whichever strangers happened to come along. In contrast, LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner posted their coordinates on Twitter and waited for people to come to them.  So, while complete strangers might show up to pick the artists up, those who showed up were already in some way connected to the project.  They might be strangers, but they were strangers who had put in time and effort.  As Nastja put it in an interview before the project began, with the staff of VICE:  “People will have to make a conscious decision to come to us.  So it’s not the usual scenario of randomly stopping to pick someone up.”  Many of strangers who picked up the three artists had to first choose to put themselves in a vulnerable position.  They had to drive – often out into the middle of nowhere – knowing that the chances of being the first to the posted coordinates were slim, and not knowing what their experience with the artists would be like if they happened to arrive first.

Nonetheless, LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner did put themselves in strangers’ hands, and let themselves be taken wherever those strangers wished. This required the artists to be trusting, and demanded that they make themselves vulnerable and allow themselves to be (to a degree) out of control.  This level of vulnerability would cause many other people concern.

Rachel remembers that when she first learned what the artists planned, she was “worried for their safety.  I was like, ‘Oh my gosh.  This is really dangerous.’”  But ultimately, when she saw how beautifully the project was going, she was amazed to “see the kind of support and care that everyone had for the artists and for each other.”

Arguably, if the artists had not been so trusting and had not let the project participants determine the outcome of the project, they could have not have formed such true and genuine connections with the people they met.  How can you really connect with others if you don’t trust them?  Before the artists really began to interact with their participants, the participants first needed to trust them enough to pick them up and drive them.  And the artists, in turn, needed to trust these total strangers enough to get in the car.  It’s a powerful act – getting into a car with strangers.  As Rachel says, “I think there is a huge amount of trust that was established in that act.”

Rachel adds that this is part of what made their project so powerful.  “I think there is a feeling – certainly that I have and that I think a lot of people have – that people just don’t trust each other.  I think we live in a society where you’re not supposed to pick up strangers.  Don’t get in a car with strangers.”  Just look at Pippa Bacca, whose story is tragic and horrifying.  Pippa Bacca’s project, which involved hitchhiking across the country, seems so naïve to so many people because of the scary world in which we live.  Rachel remarked that, during #TAKEMEANYWHERE, the 2016 Orlando Nightclub Shooting happened, killing forty-nine people and wounding fifty-three more.  And during that month, the news reported many other horrible, scary things.  But Rachel adds:  “What can we do?  We’re never going to get anywhere unless we can trust each other to some degree.”

That is what the artists and the participants in the project did.  They chose to embrace a kind of informed naivety, and – together with the participants of the project – to put themselves into a vulnerable and trusting space.  As a result, they could begin their conversations with a level of intimacy that strangers or mere-acquaintances rarely experience.  They could quickly proceed to an even greater level of connection.  Rachel remarked, “There are so many things that are stripped away, from the beginning, because of the vulnerable situation that everyone was in, and you could really just feel a sense of real connection with other human beings, which for me was an incredible experience, and not one that I have felt much in my whole life, and certainly not in such a short period of time.”

From what I’ve read about “Brides on Tour,” Bacca and Moro had similar intentions.  By putting themselves in a vulnerable place and letting many of their experiences be determined by the personal lives of strangers, they hoped to form genuine connections that went beyond what strangers or acquaintances could achieve.  No doubt, #TAKEMEANYWHERE and “Brides on Tour” were very different, in large part because of the role of the Internet and social networks in #TAKEMEANYWHERE.  As a result, #TAKEMEANYWHERE ultimately did not run the same risk of tragedy.   Nonetheless, the two projects do share several similar themes:  trust, friendship, human connection, informed naivety, and spontaneity.

As suggested earlier, similar themes also appear in many scholars’ discussions of tribes. Tribes are conceived, rightly or wrongly, as being warm and folk-oriented and full of real human connection, in contrast to the cold regimentation and exploitation of contemporary urban life.  The community associated with #TAKEMEANYWHERE, with its warm human connection and beautiful spontaneity, can easily be thought of as a tribe.  The “tribe” metaphor works!