Shia LaBeouf's latest thing is his art show #IAMSORRY, which features him in a room with a paper bag over his head, sitting in complete silence across from strangers.
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If it sounds familiar, it's because Marina Abramović did something very similar, minus the paper bag and other accoutrements, in her installation piece "The Artist Is Present." One might wonder if this is just LaBeouf's latest act of ham-handed plagiarism, a prank on the people who show up for such an event, or an actual attempt to reconnect with the people who've sharpened their knives just for him -- after all, who else is going to go except for folks who either think this is yet another schmucky stunt and/or are going to cover it for the media? And can you really write about someone so cruelly when you've stared into his eyes -- just his eyes, since his face is covered up by a brown paper bag as per the premiere for "Nymphomaniac: Part 1" at the Berlinale -- until they water with tears?
Several journalists went to LaBeouf's showing and reported back with mixed feelings. Vulture's Kyle Buchanan describes a confounding -- and ultimately moving? -- experience trying to communicate with the actor as he, Buchanan, played the ukulele (provided as part of the show), tried to talk to LaBeouf, and held his hand as the actor cried.
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Andrew Romano of "The Daily Beast" described the situation as follows: "A young, arty woman stood behind a small plywood table. On it were artifacts from LaBeouf's career: a whip (Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull), a transformer (Transformers), and so on. There was a wrench, too, and some Hershey's Kisses. There was even a book by Clowes himself -- and a bowl full of hateful tweets inspired by LaBeouf's plagiarism scandal." After Romano's time sitting across from the bag-headed figure was up, he returned with the bowl of Tweets and asked for a sign that this was really LaBeouf, at which point the actor took off the bag and allowed the reporter to take his picture.
"But I'll be honest: in the moment after I took that picture, I actually felt something real. Something strange and complex. Something like sympathy. I was alone at last with a celebrity. As a journalist writing a quick post for The Daily Beast, my job was to objectify him--and I did. Did he want to be photographed? Probably. Was he truly sad about the situation? (Even though he's an actor?) I think he was. Either way, there was more going on in those few seconds than in a lot of contemporary art. LaBeouf's look-at-me Internet penance ritual had become an actual moment between actual people."
There were similar reports of waterworks, awkward ukulele-playing, and Tweet-reading, and everyone seems to agree it's definitely the actor under there. The question is what we're supposed to make of all of it. As Tim Walker of The Independent wrote, "The exhibit is called #IAMSORRY. But was he sorry, or was I?"