Shia LaBeouf’s performance art #AllMyMovies last month was an astounding representation of individual expression. It evoked the question of individuality and do we shame and mock those who fully embrace being outside of the social norm and are individually their own. Then, beginning on November 30th, Shia began tweeting once a day “touch my soul.” It was cryptic and we were left without answers. This changed on 12/10/15 when Shia began another performance art installation in Liverpool that is to last from 12/10-12/13. #TouchMySoul is comprised of Shia and his two collaborators, Luke Turner and Nastja Säde Rönkkö, fielding and taking phone calls from the public, to which Shia will be engaging in direct phone calls with fans and asking them to “touch his soul.” This is occurring at Liverpool’s Fact Gallery between the hours of 11:00 and 18:00 GMT at the number 0151 808 0771, or you can watch the live stream at Touchmysoul.net.
In preparation to #TouchMySoul, Shia and his collaborators have stated #TouchMySoul isn’t aimed for acceptance with the art world, but rather is an opportunity, for those who want to, to embrace their performance and take it for what it is. Shia has claimed performance art enhances his ability to express himself, something he felt filmmaking failed to truly do for him (Details can be found HERE). His deviation from film wasn’t about acting, it was about expression. Individual expression is rarely conveyed in film primarily because a person is expected to repress who they are to embody the role of another. While some may claim Shia is eccentric for representing himself in such a manner, it ought to be seen as one reclaiming themselves in a society that aims to engulf individuality. This extends beyond Hollywood and has relevancy in our every day lives.
Shia has claimed that the purpose of #TouchMySoul is meant to display the public’s conception of fame and how they frame an individual’s image. In the group’s statement, they expressed their mission statement as:
“We’re more connected than ever before. Able to interact with friends, public figures and even foes over the internet each day, what impact is this having on how we understand our relationships with those around us, and the ways our emotional cores are configured?”
By engaging in this form of performance art, Shia seems to be breaking away from the shackles of public conception and further expressing himself as an individual. Is it eccentric? Absolutely. Is this an act of bravery? Debatable. Well, what IS this then? What’s the subtext? The answer can be found in precisely what Shia is asking of fans to do: “Touch my soul.” It’s ambiguous enough that it formulates the question of why should that matter to him, if it does. It is more than likely that he isn’t looking for a serious answer nor is he taking the answers given to him on a serious level. Yet when one understands HOW he is embarking on this performance art, it screams of social commentary. He’s expecting you TO CALL him and for you TO TALK in the form of EXPRESSION. In a day and age where we all cling to our technology, our iPhones, and our computers, do we actually verbally express ourselves anymore and leave it at that?
What #TouchMySoul indirectly touches upon is how society has become detached from expression, especially when it’s expression that doesn’t fit into the conventional definition of the normal. We seek societal validation with Facebook “likes,” Twitter “favorites” and the number of blog reads. The conversation has been relegated to us veering towards what the majority says is worth knowing about, talking to others through a computer monitor, and our emotions expressed through a keyboard and emojis. The conversation is no longer verbal and the expression of sentiment is looked down upon. Our public persona must be in the format of pristine perfection and despite how debased our private life is, it is uncouth to talk about it. We are encouraged to remain private if our conversation is outside of the norm, but expected to express ourselves if it fits in the cookie-cutter image of what is acceptable. What Shia has done with #TouchMySoul is flip the public image to the private. The only way to truly touch one’s soul is to establish a connection. This cannot be achieved with the pathetic usage of Twitter hashtags or Facebook groups that emphasize solidarity. To truly connect to someone on an individual level means that one has to be an individual and to actually reach towards someone with the intent of being personal, of exposing the private, and to admit you are not perfect. In other words, merely standing next to someone and talking the superficial cannot be deemed as a genuine “connection.” It’s only through verbalization and the willingness to admit one’s own flawed humanity that a connection with another is possible.
This asks the question, do we as a society actually know how to touch the soul of another anymore? #TouchMySoul is a regression of one with technology and demands one to pick up the phone and dial another. Admittingly, many people calling Shia is more for the aim of hearing his voice, but that in itself is verification that such persons aren’t capable of touching a soul. Instead, they are so immersed with the public persona that talking to the private persona isn’t relevant to them. That is what makes the subtext of #TouchMySoul so compelling. It begs the question of asking whether we are capable of touching a soul outside of it being a viral video or through social media. Is there any way we can individually touch one’s soul without the need for the world to validate it first? Considering we live as a society who must take a photo of their food and post it on Facebook or Instagram before we actually eat it (I, myself, am guilty of this!), this seems to indicate that many may have an uphill battle in being able to touch one’s soul.
In typical fashion, Shia LaBeouf has engaged the world in another form of performance art that challenges the notions of societal normalcy. While some may see this as a gimmick, one cannot deny the subtext of what this performance art represents. Is society so attached to their technology, to which we only see public personas through them, that we have lost the essence of what it is to be an individual and how to truly connect to another person? It’s a fair question.