In a recently published interview with Dazed magazine, actor Shia LaBeouf told writer Aimee Cliff he was raped by a woman during his performance art show “#IAMSORRY” in February. Over the weekend, two artists who collaborated with LaBeouf to produce the performance art piece confirmed LaBeouf was sexually assaulted at the Cohen Gallery in Los Angeles.
LeBeouf initiated the rather unorthodox interview, which took place entirely via e-mail. In it, he wrote:
One woman who came with her boyfriend, who was outside the door when this happened, whipped my legs for ten minutes and then stripped my clothing and proceeded to rape me… There were hundreds of people in line when she walked out with dishevelled hair and smudged lipstick. It was no good, not just for me but her man as well. On top of that my girl was in line to see me, because it was Valentine’s Day and I was living in the gallery for the duration of the event – we were separated for five days, no communication. So it really hurt her as well, as I guess the news of it travelled through the line. When she came in she asked for an explanation, and I couldn’t speak, so we both sat with this unexplained trauma silently. It was painful.
LaBeouf took to the Cohen, possibly as penance, for plagiarizing the Daniel Clowes comic “Justin M. Damiano” for his film “Howard Cantour.com.” “I made a short film with another person’s (Daniel Clowes’) ideas, took it to Cannes and never properly accredited him,” LaBeouf told Cliff.
It was shortly after LaBeouf was outed for plagiarizing that he wore a bag on his head that read “I am not famous anymore” to the Berlin Film Festival. He issued a series of apologies on Twitter, all of which were apologies previously given by other celebrities. In January, he announced he was retiring from public life.
In his show at the Cohen, LaBeouf’s face was still obscured by a paper bag, though the eye holes were big enough to see that his eyes were red and watery. In an antechamber gallery visitors encountered before coming face-to-face with LaBeouf, a number of objects were available: a whip from “Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull,” in which he acted, and a model transformer, as LaBeouf starred in “Transformers” until he walked away or was dismissed from the franchise. According to the Daily Beast, there were also Hershey’s Kisses, a Clowes book, a bowl of tweets about LaBeouf’s plagiarizing, a bottle of cologne and a wrench.
Luke Turner and Säde Rönkkö Rönkkö, two artists who collaborated with LaBeouf on “#IAMSORRY,” issued identical statements about the alleged rape on Twitter:
Turner responded to inquiries by Piers Morgan, who dismissed the claim LaBeouf was raped because he did not move and did not attempt to stop the woman.
LaBeouf is not the first performance artist to cede control and subject himself to the whims of those who lined up to observe him — he and Cliff discussed Marina Abramović’s “Rhythm 0.” In “Rhythm 0,” performed at the Galleria Studio Morra in Naples in 1974, Abramović allowed the public to manipulate her body with objects including a rose, a knife, even a gun and a bullet. She finished the piece bleeding with her breasts exposed and the loaded gun pointed at her temple.
‘That was the heaviest piece I ever did because I wasn’t in control,” Abramović later said. “The audience was in control.’
It’s up to the audience to behave ethically, and the artist to trust that it will. LaBeouf didn’t consent to sexual violation any more or less than Abramović consented to being murdered. Thankfully, she wasn’t. LaBeouf said the time he spent at the Cohen was more social experiment than art.
This year brought a string of oddities from LaBeouf, who has been acting regularly since he was 12 years old. He was arrested for causing a disturbance at a Broadway performance of “Cabaret,” and had to be put in a mask because he kept spitting at police. He entered a rehabilitation facility as part of a plea deal in connection with the case.
“That moment actually saved my life, forced me to look at myself,” LaBeouf told Elvis Mitchell. “And when you’re in a cell with a f—ing mask on your face and a lead jacket, you can really see that some of your life choices were skewed wrong. And for some people it does take that.”
The actor has spoken before about how his upbringing has affected him. He talked to Cliff and Mitchell about his relationship with his father, who he described as a “gun nut like Hemingway.”
“The only thing my father gave me that was of any value to me is pain,” LaBeouf said to Mitchell in Interview magazine. “The only time my dad will ever talk to me is when I need him at work. He knows to pick up the Skype phone call, and he knows what I’m looking for. It’s not to say ‘Hey, Dad.’ We manipulate each other. We service each other. I use him when I go to work. It’s not a real conversation; it’s just an excuse to rev up. He’s the marionette puppeteer. My dad is the key to most of my base emotions. My greatest and my worst memories are with my father, all my major trauma and major celebration came from him. It’s a negative gift.”
Still, even when LaBeouf is doing his best to be open, he leaves people perplexed.
“I don’t know how I feel about Shia LaBeouf,” wrote the Daily Beast’s Andrew Romano after seeing “#IAMSORRY.” “My guess is that he’s an actual plagiarist who’s trying to turn the whole scandal to his advantage by transforming it into ‘art.’ I think he’s been an actor his entire life, and he’s desperate for attention, and that desperation is a little unseemly. He might also be mentally unstable.”
When LaBeouf and Cliff did meet each other in London, where LaBeouf was attending the premiere for his new movie, “Fury,” they did not speak. “Rather than a regular interview, LaBeouf suggests that we keep all of our words online, and meet in person without speaking,” Cliff wrote. “It’s mid-October when we come face to face in his hotel room, both of us with GoPros strapped to our heads, for an hour. The pull of a digital connection follows us into the room, yet morphs into something entirely different.”
If you want to watch an hour of Cliff and LaBeouf wordlessly staring at each other, the video is below: