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I was stuck in an elevator with Shia LaBeouf and this is what happened

Published on
11 Jun 2016
Written by
Vyacheslav W. Polonski

A conversation about Hollywood, performance art, memes, hippos, horse racing, meta-modernism and the meaning of life

THE GIST: As part of the #elevate project Hollywood actor Shia LaBeouf and his collaborators Nastja Säde Rönkkö and Luke Turner have spent 24 hours in a lift at the University of Oxford, where I got a chance to be part of their performance art project and ask the artists a few questions.

I’ve been following the meta-modern performance art projects by LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner for a while now. Some of my favourites include #touchmysoul, #allmymovies and, of course, the Internet classic #introductions that gave rise to one of the greatest motivational videos of all time. When I heard that the trio is coming to the University of Oxford, I was thrilled at the prospect of participating in this form of art.

The new #elevate performance piece is a live-stream of a 24-hour elevator ride from 9 a.m. on February 19th to 9 a.m. February 20th 2016. Members of the public were invited to address the artists and the Internet, so that their collective voices could form an extended, expansive and egalitarian art project. The overall reception of the project has been extremely positive both online and offline, even though people in the queue waited for over 9 hours and were ready to pay up to £150 to get into the elevator with Shia & Co.

When I entered the elevator, it almost felt like meeting old friends. LaBeouf, Rönkkö and Turner just had their morning coffee and our conversation moved forward in a natural flowing state from one topic to another. We discussed their art, Shia’s movies, memories, monetisation and meta-modernism. I asked the artists about their favourite animals (Shia: Hippo) and what person they’d like to be for a day if they could be anyone in the world (Shia: Tupac, Prince or Dr Dre). In response to my question on his parents’ reception of his art, Shia explained that his father was actually really enjoying his performance art projects, even though his mother was still somewhat skeptical about it. We’ve also discussed the different international receptions of the famous “Just do it” motivational speech (Shia: everyone has his or her own interpretation and I am glad that I could have such an impact on people). However, Shia was a bit reluctant to quantify the impact of his art, stating that he fears it would detract from its original meaning.

We were able to connect on so many levels (pun intended) and, finally, Shia even did an impersonation of me, paraphrasing my research at the Oxford Internet Institute: “I’m doing my thesis on memes, but that’s a conversation for a different elevator.

Here are a few snippets from our conversation that have been featured as highlights of the entire project by BuzzFeed’s Daniel Dalton. When the recording is available I will update this post with more in-depth quotes.

On being someone else for a day:

“If I could be anybody for a day. I don’t know I’d probably be Dr Dre for a day. Definitely a musician. Like Prince. Tupac. Dre. Somebody I have always admired in my childhood. I’d love to be any of those guys for a day.”

On other conversations he had in the lift:

“Somebody pulled his dick out. One person sang. Someone had a fear of elevators, got over his fear of elevators. Those are the highlights.”

“When he pulled his cock out, it was a little bit disappointing for all of us. There was a collective sigh.”

“There have just been some fire conversations. The majority of our day has just been badass conversations. It’s the same conversation we’d have in a bagel shop.”

On what he’s learned:

“The history of the Union. The politics of the school. The history of mathematics. There have been some wild conversations today. Everyone is passionate about something.”

On quantifying his art:

“You know how being at the concert and taking a picture of yourself at the concert takes you out of that experience. That’s how I feel about metrics.”

“You need to be real in the moment.”

On starting out in art:

“I used to say I’m part of a meta-modern performance troupe. It’s fucking embarrassing.”

“My dad thinks it’s cool. My mom thinks it’s a little batshit crazy. All my Hollywood people hate it.”

On what animal he likes most or likes to be:

“Probably a Hippopotamus.”

“I used to love Hungry Hungry Hippos. You ever play that game? That was the fucking game. It’s fire.”

On why Hollywood rarely appreciates his art:

“It fucks with their money. If you own a racehorse and the horse says I don’t really want to race today, I just wanna go and run around in the woods. They don’t like you living your own life.”

[Update] You can find the whole Oxford Union address by LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner in this video to learn more about how elevators create intimacy. At 00:29:38 I’m getting a shoutout from LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner: “a student researching memes for his PhD” — most quoted line from the event!

About the author: Vyacheslav (@slavacm) is a doctoral candidate at the Oxford Internet Institute, researching complex social networks, digital identity and technology adoption. He has previously studied at Harvard University, Oxford University and the London School of Economics and Political Science. Vyacheslav is actively involved in the World Economic Forum and its Global Shapers community, where he is the Curator of the Oxford Hub. He writes about the intersection of sociology, network science and technology.

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