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.
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.
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.”