“For the next hour, I’ll be jumping rope, here, facing my digital reflection,” Shia LaBeouf, actor and performance artist, announced to London’s Auto Italia on Saturday afternoon. Outside, it was chucking it down. But for the small crowd in the gallery, we had a direct peek into Shia’s sunlit, fluorescent green shorts-wearing, pool-having Californian lifestyle via Skype link. We were invited to join him in skipping, to feel a heart-thumping and mind-emptying transcendental connection via this shared digital moment, titled Meditation for Narcissists, part of Auto-Italia's month-long event series opti-ME*.
Was enlightenment achieved? Probably not. People chuckled and came over self-conscious, sporadically taking turns to jump rope in time with Shia and eventually even getting pretty into it, leading playground-style group skips. But whether those who took part were really experiencing a moment of spiritual connection with themselves is questionable. It’s telling that LaBeouf used the phrasing “join me on my quest to find my inner self”, as this meditation was less about the self and more about his self.
The undercurrent of this and Shia’s other recent projects in collaboration with artists Luke Turner and Nastja Sade Ronkko (#IAMSORRY and his Guy Debord reading at LCF) is a complex commentary on the dehumanising and obsessive nature of celebrity culture. The people in the room who awkwardly took their place in front of the camera for a few jumps, and the people who stood back observing and chuckling, all gave off an air of self-consciousness that came not from watching themselves in a digital mirror, but from being under the gaze of someone who is usually – constantly – under the gaze of the public.
In keeping with the OptiME exhibition’s theme on networked culture, the celebrity involvement meant the experience felt bigger than the moment itself; it was augmented by the stories you’d later tell about it, the photos you’d post of it and the tweets you mentally composed to tell the world “I went skipping with Shia LaBeouf today LOL”.
You can watch the video above: this element of being watched is gone, but what’s left is the recording of Shia’s own intense focus on himself, reaching a repetitive meditative state through a pretty impressive hour of skipping (no, it’s really not a loop). Hit play and pick up a rope to see if you can achieve spiritual oneness with him.