#Elevate. Don’t let your dreams stay dreams.
Two hours in a queue for 10 minutes in a lift with LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner — or rather — Shia, Nastja, and Luke. I showed up around 9:30am with 30 people ahead, outside the least Oxford square in Oxford. Gloucester Green is just an open, brick-paved space with a couple of food trucks. We — the queue’d — stood outside of the nondescript English language learning school and talked. I hadn’t showered, or eaten. I was halfway through a foggy morning, watching Inglorious Basterds when I ran down to catch a spot. The performance had begun (watch it here).
In line, folks were watching compilations of “Do It” and the “Actual Cannibal Shia LaBeouf.” We were all a little anxious and a little proud — a little cocky. No one wanted to admit their craving to be near fame in an elevator. “Why not?” was the phrase of the hour. “When will you get a chance to meet someone like him again?”
When we got closer to the entrance to the building, two people walked out after playing “Cock or Ball” in the lift, a game where you guess whether the skin you show from you pants-zipper is skin from the cock or the ball. Shia guessed wrong — it was cock, not ball. The guy two spots in front of me sang happy birthday with Shia, Luke, and Nostja for his cousin in Germany. He’s a masters student studying Archaeology. He had recited that bit for an hour and a half. The girl in front of me bought her spot off another Archaeology master’s student for 50 quid.
When I finally stepped in, I was shaking, and my plot for conversation faded away. I had nothing. It was like being in an elevator with anyone else. I was pissed I was shaking. “Hello, I’m Shia.” — “I’m Luke” — “I’m Nastja.” We shook hands, “I’m Andrew.” Then we started to talk.
Shia talked about wishing he, too, was in the queue: “I want to know what’s happening out there — everyone comes in with a story of who they just met, what they just felt like.” Nastja told me about a dream she had, full of the Illuminati and the Freemasons: she woke up in the middle thirty minutes before the performance. She’d missed her alarm.
I asked Shia what it meant to him to be famous. He said, “Some’s good, some’s bad. It’s hard to eat brownies and not feel guilty.” When I asked, “Then why this?”, Shia said, “Aren’t we all just fucking around?” Luke and Nastja chuckled. Standing in an elevator, calling it performance art, is funny. They know. Fame is a strange, dehumanizing beast. But it’s humorous too.
When you think about performance art, you imagine Marina Abramovic staring silently at folks in the Moma for months. But this was a friendly experience — a comic absurdity. We were friends — in a sense. We were equal, level, on the same playing field. It fits their Metamodern descriptions.
When you step in and shake hands, you forget about the listeners on the other side of the microphone in the elevator. There were about 2.5 thousand listening on Youtube when I stepped on. I forgot about them when I shook these three human’s hands. When I remembered halfway through I mentioned it — “Damn— you forget there are thousands of people listening in.” Shia said, “Isn’t that fame?”
For them, this gives an opportunity to empathize with humans in a small space with the irony of thousands listening in. This is about breaking down walls in the most normal of boxes, but doing it in a radically public way. You’re an equal when you’re on an elevator. Whatever agenda, position, or passion you espouse, when you’re riding up and down a lift with three people, that’s all they are: people.
As I walked away, I brushed off people in queue asking to know how it went. I wished I’d asked different questions. But I don’t suppose that’s the point. I left with a fire to find those spaces where the digital breaks down and the human begins. How can we develop an art, an empathy, an affect in this bizarre (meta)modern age. How can #elevate become human? It does in an elevator.
I’m disappointed I didn’t take a selfie.