Seven things we learned from Shia LaBeouf's SXSW talk

The Fury actor joined artistic collaborators Luke Turner and Nastja Rönkkö to discuss their latest art project #FOLLOWMYHEART

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ShiaLaBeouf SXSW

In the past 18 months, Shia LaBeouf, Luke Turner and Nastja Säde Rönkkö have been making some of the most interesting and elegant work spanning digital culture, performance art and acting. Starting with LaBeouf's cryptic Berlinale appearance with a paper bag reading "I AM NOT FAMOUS ANYMORE" to the #IAMSORRY performance piece, the trio have now come up with #FOLLOWMYHEART.

Using technology powered by pplkpr, LaBeouf is wearing a heart monitor 24/7 while attending SXSW. Visitors to FOLLOW-MY-HEART.NET will be able to watch LaBeouf's heartbeat in real time. Midway through the festival, Dazed editor-in-chief Tim Noakes caught up with the three to find out how their latest project was going.

WHAT #FOLLOWMYHEART IS ALL ABOUT

Turner said that the jump-off point for the artwork was: "How do we approach doing something involving tech, but also creating an intimate connection across the net? The most intimate thing is your heartbeat. It literally is the rhythm of life, but [we're] broadcasting that in the most public realm while creating this intimate one-on-one relationship."

LaBeouf admitted that wearing his heart monitor made him feel calmer and more relaxed. "Every time my heart rate goes up, I'll stop, breathe and focus on getting my heartrate lower numerically. I've had panic attacks throughout most of my life, whether it's at work or whether I've been drinking heavy. I haven't had that for a while, and this is a constant reminder to stay at a constant numerical place to find peace."

WATCHING SHIA LABEOUF'S HEARTBEAT IS STRANGELY RELAXING 

Unless he's doing a quick lap of the SXSW conference room – which is what he did to demonstrate that the heart monitor really does work – for the most part, #FOLLOWMYHEART has had an oddly soothing effect on viewers. "People are saying, hey I've had anxiety issues for years and every time I pull up your heart my anxiety goes away," LaBeouf said. Rönkkö added that she saw one nurse comment, "I'll never listen to my own patient's heartbeat the same again." There were even some people who said they were trying to sync their hearts to LaBeouf's. 

WHAT SHIA THINKS ABOUT SIA'S "ELASTIC HEART" MUSIC VIDEO

LaBeouf also spoke about the uproar over Sia's music video with him and Maddie Ziegler, which many branded problematic and even triggering

"As soon as the trailer hit the web with the static wide shot of me in the cage, sites like Just Jared and Perez Hilton were already putting things over my privates, assuming that I was nude," he said. "The goal intended was they wanted to take something that's difficult and make it controversial. When something's controversial, you never have to deal with the difficulty of the piece of work. I don't think it's bad to have difficult work; I think difficult work pushes culture." 

Rönkkö added: "I think it tells a lot more about our society, especially how we see women and especially young girls."

HOW SHIA, LUKE AND NASTJA CAME TOGETHER

So how did LaBeouf even meet Turner and Rönkkö, both artists based in London? The internet, duh. Over a year ago, LaBeouf was accused of plagiarising graphic novelist Daniel Clowes in his short film Howard Cantour.com. "

"I was in a pretty shitty situation," he said. "I really wanted to make a short film and was so insecure about my own ideas and I love Daniel Clowes. It was shot for shot, frame by frame, word for word, his script... It got accepted at Cannes and won an award there, and then I had to answer for the fact of why there was no writer attributed to the work."

LaBeouf was widely criticised for the plagiarism. In response, he began researching art and film theories online and approached Turner. "I'm quite ignorant to the whole [art] thing so I tried to reach out to people," he said. "I found Luke and wrote him a fan letter. His metamodernism manifesto really touched me."

Even so, Turner says that he wasn't totally sure about LaBeouf's offer of collaboration. "There was a bit of fear," he laughs. "I did my research, but the thing that really struck me about Shia's whole history is you can track it back on YouTube. As a kid, you were going on these talk shows. You don't typically get that radical level of honesty and transparency that Shia has always shown. I straight away thought that this was someone who had the sensibility of an artist."

From there, Turner introduced LaBeouf to Rönkkö and the three started collaborating on work, beginning with LaBeouf's paper bag stunt at Cannes and their latest, #FOLLOWMYHEART. "All of our work, we don't really know who came up with what," Rönkkö said. "For me, #FOLLOWMYHEART is Shia's heart, but I feel like it's a collective heart."

THEY WERE EXPECTING #IAMSORRY TO GET VIOLENT

LaBeouf spoke to Dazed last year about his sexual assault during the #IAMSORRY performance in Los Angeles, which saw him sit in a room to interact one-on-one with visitors. But the three artists were also expecting physical violence from visitors. "I really expected the show to be: day one, break my nose," LaBeouf said. "There were death threats. Daniel Clowes is a god in the comic book world and I thought for sure someone's going to break my nose."

YOU PROBABLY NEED PAIN TO BE A GOOD ARTIST

So did LaBeouf regret having to go through a huge public backlash before being able to come out the other end and make art? Nope. "I am blessed with the shit in my life. I'm blessed with pain. Actors have wells of pain so they can use it. It's the same with this work," he said. "Being an artist, it's almost a necessity to have an open wound," Turner said. "It's the opposite of closing up and getting through life."

"I think you need a sprinkle of insanity to be a good artist," LaBeouf argued later. "Definitely to be a good actor. It's a bit insane what we're asked to do as actors, which is get up on stage and get naked and turn around really slow and be observed and judged. A bit of trouble is needed. Good actors are troublesome. For me, finding a way to liquidate that trouble into something I can manage and play with as material has created a certain idea of what I am in the public. We work with that here."

LABEOUF DOESN'T CARE IF YOU DON'T TAKE THE ART SERIOUSLY

While any actor-slash-artist inevitably has to deal with some "is he serious, c'mon" eye-rolling from the public, LaBeouf is sanguine about the whole thing. "It's part of it," he acknowledged. "I'm just doing my work because I'm learning to explore myself through this. It's very carthartic. It's an existential crisis that turned into an existential exploration that I'm benefiting from. So whether it's art or stupid, that's OK with me. As long as the benefits keep coming, I don't give a shit."

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