Hollywood has come to regard the likes of LaBeouf as disposable freelancers: cheap relative to more established stars, there to fill space between the explosions the summer audience really wants to see. In December, LaBeouf used work, without giving credit, by the illustrator Daniel Clowes in his short film, "HowardCantour.com." LaBeouf is currently sitting in a Los Angeles art gallery wearing a paper bag over his head that says “I AM NOT FAMOUS ANYMORE,” and while you could quibble with that statement based on all the press he’s been getting, there's one sense in which it's true: LaBeouf has now become infamous.
Titled #IAMSORRY, the installation features the actor sitting alone in a room with a bag over his head, while audience participants pass through one by one to witness LaBeouf's contrition. Many are saying that this is another example of LaBeouf’s plagiarism, citing a piece by Marina Abramovic where she sat silently while audience members were welcome to do whatever they want with a group of objects, including knives and a loaded gun. When asked her personal opinion of the piece, Abramovic said that the actor was being "manipulative."
Upon entering the exhibit people are told to choose an object from a selection that includes a whip, Transformers toys, Hershey's Kisses, a pair of pliers and a bowl of notes containing Twitter comments about LaBeouf. There are things like a "Transformers" toy, a whip (he starred in 2008's "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull"), Hershey's kisses, a bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey, a bottle of cologne, pliers, a ukelele and a copy of Daniel Clowes' book, "The Death-Ray." There was no photography allowed, but the implements include a leather whip, a pair of pliers, a vase of daisies, an Optimus Prime Transformer toy, a bowl of Hershey’s kisses, a bowl of folded slips of paper containing tweets about LaBeouf, a large bottle of Jack Daniels, a small bottle of Brut cologne, a pink ukulele, and the graphic novel The Death-Ray by Daniel Clowes.
Once an item is selected attendees are ushered into a second room, in which LaBeouf sits, silently, at a table, with a paper bag on his head. I sat down. I brought in a stem of daisies and laid it on the table. I ask him if I can take a picture. No response. Right before I got up to leave, I pulled one of the mean tweets out of the bowl and read it aloud to him.
As I stand in the alley afterwards, I pull out an audio recorder and mumble some notes, and I'm sort of surprised to find my voice so tremulous. The whole thing may be deeply ingenuine, but it was genuinely disturbing: sitting across from LaBeouf, whose head-bag is ragged and tear-stained, I found it impossible not to have empathy, to feel ashamed of myself for participating in a public emotional flogging (nevermind that it was orchestrated by the punished, nevermind that it may be even less sincere than Dumb Starbucks). I’ll be honest: in the moment after I took that picture, I actually felt something real. But was he sorry, or was I?
Kenneth Goldsmith is a writer and curator based in New York and an artist and writer based in Los Angeles.