Jacky’s adventure was part of #TAKEMEANYWHERE, a project organized by the artistic trio of Shia LaBeouf, Nastja Säde Rönkkö, and Luke Turner. Together, they go by the band name “LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner.”
From May 23rd to June 23rd, 2016, LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner hitchhiked across the country. During their project, the artists periodically posted their GPS coordinates and the hashtag #TAKEMEANYWHERE on their Twitter page, @thecampaignbook. After they posted their coordinates, they waited at that location for a ride, and whoever first picked them up was allowed to take the three artists wherever he or she wanted. The artists’ trip and experiences were determined by the projects’ participants – particularly those who could arrive at posted coordinates the fastest. Some people on Twitter have suggested that #TAKEMEANYWHERE might best be thought of as “social media hitchhiking.”
The project was supported in part by VICE, and the artists’ route was often (though not always) tracked in real time on the website http://takemeanywhere.vice.com. Going on the website, you could see a map of the world on which a small dot, representing the artists, would slowly inch along. The artists’ trail remained marked out on the map as well, and anyone could see where they had been. That was how Jacky tracked them. She was encouraged to track them by looking at the artists’ map-in-progress.
The artists began their journey near Boulder, Colorado, where they had recently given a presentation and participated in a question-and-answer session at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, as part of the museum’s series of events called MediaLive: Corruption. As they hitchhiked, the artists made their way from Colorado out into Kansas and the Midwest, before returning back through Colorado, west over the mountains, and south into Arizona. The artists then traveled from Arizona straight across the country to New Orleans and Florida, before heading north as far as Pennsylvania and New Jersey. They headed due west, where Jacky met them as they crossed Lake Michigan. The artists hitchhiked across the country to Montana, Wyoming, and Washington State. They then headed north into Canada, stopping Vancouver and Alberta, before finally catching a flight to Alaska, where their project ended.
During their month long project, the three artists carried around a video camera, which they frequently used to capture their adventures. Together, they are creating a film which will be displayed at the Finnish Institute in London and the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, which together commissioned the project.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Tribespeople are defined, in part, by sharing the same culture. I argue that #TribeLRT shares the culture of metamodernism. What is metamodernism? Dutch cultural theorists Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van den Akker describe metamodernism as a specific structure of feeling, or sensibility, that many people in Western culture currently express. The metamodern sensibility has a specific sort of character, which Vermeulen and van den Akker describe like this:
Metamodernism oscillates between the modern and the postmodern. It oscillates between a modern enthusiasm and a postmodern irony, between hope and melancholy, between naivety and knowingness, empathy and apathy, unity and plurality, totality and fragmentation, purity and ambiguity.
The best way to understand this quote is to consider films and works of art that theorists have called “metamodern.” Vermeulen and van den Akker suggest that the metamodern sensibility might best be understood by engaging with the films and works of art that most clearly express it.
Consider, for instance, the films of Wes Anderson, who has directed Rushmore (1998), The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), Moonrise Kingdom (2012), and The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), among other films. Also consider the American crime drama Breaking Bad, which ran on television from 2008 to 2013. These films and shows, and others like them, seem to oscillate between – move back and forth between – different feelings and attitudes. They oscillate between irony on the one hand and sincerity on the other, empathy on the one hand and apathy on the other, hope on the one hand and melancholy on the other. These films and shows sometimes almost regain the innocence and naivety of childhood but this naivety is always contrasted with harsh experience and life knowledge.
Vermeulen and van den Akker suggest that we can – strictly metaphorically – visualize the metamodern sensibility expressed by these films and shows as a pendulum swinging back and forth between countless poles. Each time the pendulum swings toward sincerity, gravity eventually pulls it in the opposite direction, toward irony. Each time it reaches toward empathy, gravity pulls it back toward apathy. Sincerity and irony are both present in these films and shows and do not diminish each other. They are simply different poles between which the films and shows swing. This, then, gives a sense – though only a partial one – of the surprisingly complex notion of the metamodern sensibility. I contend that this is also the sensibility shared by all of the members of the common tribe engaged with #TAKEMEANYWHERE.
LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner describe #TAKEMEANYWHERE in the same romantic language that Vermeulen and van den Akker use when they discuss metamodernism. Recall, from above, that both Luke and Shia have spoken about the “naivety” involved in #TAKEMEANYWHERE. Luke explicitly used the phrase “informed naivety” to describe the project. Vermeulen and van den Akker use exactly the same phrase in their description of metamodernism. They claim that the metamodern mindset “can be conceived as a kind of informed naivety, a pragmatic idealism.” They suggest that people like me, who have a metamodern sensibility, tend to naively strive forward toward idealistic goals. We act as if achieving our grand goals is possible, despite the fact that – if we really paid attention to the world – we would be aware of the great likelihood of failure. In one work of art, titled Broken Fall (1971), artist Bas Jan Ader films himself climbing a tree until he falls. He aims to fulfill the task of climbing to the end of the branches despite – if he paid attention – the impossibility of success.
Below, I will discuss a number of other similarities in the language used by Vermeulen and van den Akker and the language used by LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner. The three artists intentionally appealed to these scholars’ language and theory when they described #TAKEMEANYWHERE. LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner meant for #TAKEMEANYWHERE to be viewed as metamodern art. So too, we can view the tribe associated with the project – #TribeLRT – as a tribe defined, in part, by metamodern culture.
Luke’s own philosophy of art was heavily influenced by Vermuelan and van den Akker. He writes about them and cites their work in an article he, himself, wrote titled, “Metamodernism: A Brief Introduction.” Luke is also co-editor the online journal Notes on Metamodernism with Robin van den Akker.
Nastja and Shia, too, are clearly aware of the work of Vermeulen and van den Akker, both indirectly through talking with Luke, and also more directly, through meeting and working with the two scholars. LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner performed their project titled “#METAMARATHON” outside of a museum in Amsterdam while a symposium on metamodernism, which Vermeulen and van den Akker helped to organize, was taking place inside the building. During #METAMARATHON, all three artists, dressed in silly outfits, ran laps around the museum. Random strangers, who watched #METAMARATHON, could choose to run laps with Shia, or to run laps “for” him, while he rested. During part of #METAMARATHON, Vermeulen and van den Akker, who helped to organize the symposium, were giving an academic presentation inside the museum. In essence, LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner literally ran laps around the two scholars.
Shia also participated in a university class taught by Timotheus Vermeulen. Shia Skyped in to the class, and gave a performative reading of a paper Vermeulen co-wrote with van den Akker, in which they define metamodernism and use phrases such as “informed naivety.”
So, when LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner use language that is similar to that employed by Vermeulen and van den Akker, it is no accident. They mean for their audience to be able to view #TAKEMEANYWHERE through a metamodern lens, if their audience so chooses. Consider, for example, the artists’ brief description of #TAKEMEANYWHERE, which they published at the beginning of their journey. The artists write:
The American road trip has long been symbolic of a collective yearning to seek out beauty and truth within a corrupt nation. As part of MediaLive 2016’s theme on corruption, #TAKEMEANYWHERE asks, can we find such truths within the corrupted networks of society, and preserve something of the utopian naivety of the Internet age?
In this quote the artists use the phrase “utopian naivety.” It is clear that the three artists, during #TAKEMEANYWHERE, embraced metamodern informed naivety. In the quote, the artists contrast the phrase “utopian naivety” with the phrase “corrupt nation.” No doubt, the three artists know that the world is corrupt. We live in a world in which Pippa Bacca was raped and killed while hitchhiking. We cannot get in cars with strangers. While the three artists hitchhiked across the country, a shooter killed forty-nine people in a nightclub in Orlando. But, nonetheless, like Pippa Bacca and Silvia Moro in “Brides on Tour,” the three artists continue to strive for truth, beauty, trust, hope and human connection. They naively embrace the idea of utopia and making the world a better place. At the very least, they openly question if preserving utopia is possible. Is it possible to grasp hold of some part of a utopia of trust and beauty?
The three artists were appealing to the theories of metamodernism when they used the term “informed naivety” to describe #TAKEMEANYWHERE. Arguably, they also appealed to metamodernism when they wrote about “utopia.” Vermeulen and van den Akker contend that the notion of utopia appears in many metamodern artworks. Luke Turner himself claims that metamodernism “does describe a climate in which yearning for utopias, despite their futile nature, has come to the fore.” The metamodernist artist, he writes, can “attempt to attain some sort of transcendent position, as if such a thing were within our grasp.” The metamodern artist might, on some deep level, know that true utopia cannot be realized, and that we lack the conceptual tools to imagine it, but the artist chooses to naively pursue it nonetheless, as if it is possible. In the case of #TAKEMEANYWHERE, utopia would undoubtedly include beauty, truth, trust, and warming human conception.
On board the S.S. Badger, in the middle of Lake Michigan, Jacky was cold. She was enjoying herself, and loved the people she was with. Still, she had not expected to follow LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner onto a boat in the middle of the night. She had not brought a jacket. She was shivering. At that point, everyone was out on the deck, sitting on chairs or on the floor, or leaning against the railings. Waves lapped against the boat. Jacky kept her arms crossed in front of her, trying to stay warm.
One of the girls from the group noticed how cold she was, and offered Jacky her coat. But the coat was too small, so Jacky gave it back. Meanwhile, Shia had been talking to some other people, and had overheard part of Jacky’s conversation. He had figured out that someone was cold, but, having missed most of the conversation, he did not know who.
“Who’s cold?” Shia asked. Before anyone could give an answer, he approached a different girl, thinking that she was the one who was cold. The girl said, “No,” and gestured toward Jacky.
“Here, take my jacket,” Shia said. He immediately started to drape his coat over Jacky’s shoulders, and assisted her until her arms were through. He bundled her in to make sure she was warm. “All of my shit is in the pockets,” Shia said, “Just so you know.” Shia trusted Jacky enough to wear his jacket with his phone, wallet, cigarettes, and whatever other miscellaneous things were in there. “We weren’t always together,” Jacky writes. “Sometimes he’d go off with a couple of the guys or I would go to the bathroom. So his trust was incredible to receive.”
Jacky describes herself as someone who “dreams about things that seem impossible.” She writes, “I think about things that will most likely never be. And most importantly, I never stop.” Sitting on the boat in the middle of the night, talking with Shia and Luke and Nastja, Jacky thought about her greatest dreams for the future, some of which she had come, over time, to think were outside her grasp. “But if I rode a boat with Shia LaBeouf while wearing his jacket, then surely nothing is out of my reach. So now, I will still dream.”
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.”