Back in December, Shia LaBeouf, Nastja Säde Rönkkö, and Luke Turner teamed up to create a live, interactive performance art piece called #TOUCHMYSOUL. The premise was fairly simple: People from all around the globe would call in and speak with the trio in an effort to touch their souls by fostering human connection. The questions behind the piece, however, were far more complex: Is it possible to touch someone’s soul? Does technology aid or hamper that process? Is LaBeouf, who has been engulfed in Hollywood for nearly his entire life, capable of cultivating a shared experience?
For four days, hundreds of people dialed in and got through to the art collective, who were stationed at a hexagonal table at Liverpool’s Foundation for Art and Creative Technology (FACT). The burden of human connection ultimately fell on the caller, which led many to question the group’s intentions. Did they expect to have others create a one-sided connection with them? Were they even open to being touched? While those interested could tune into a livestream of the event or follow along via an open Google Doc, there was no way to hear the process and follow along, other than firsthand accounts posted on the Internet. Many were hung up on after asking a trite question, or cracking a silly joke; others brought the members to tears.
In the experiment’s short 10-minute documentary, which was released earlier today, Turner asks a woman, “Can you touch my soul?” “I can try,” she responds. “Oh my god, I actually don’t know. I don’t think I can. Can you touch anyone’s soul? I don’t really know.” “Me neither,” LaBeouf responds. “I just thought it was worth a try,” she replies. “I think you just did,” LaBeouf answers. “I did? How?” She gets no answer. Did the fact that they were all trying to work towards finding a way to touch another’s soul make them connected? Was it LaBeouf’s validation of her attempt that made him feel as if they were connected? Or was it a simple act of human nicety to say that the woman succeeded?
Another woman says that the experiment created a larger community, a “bigger picture.” Some praised the collective for the idea itself, and others spoke about their struggles with depression, anxiety, and their fears about how technology is eroding true human connection and the human capacity for love. In fact, most of the experiences included in the video are positive.
But not everyone who called tried to send positivity. When one man called in, the following exchange happened:
“Do you not think that you should be using your reputation to make a bigger change in the world opposed to using social media stunts? I suggest that instead of sitting on the phone talking to people asking them to touch you, you make a difference and you touch someone else and use it more?”“How would you touch someone else?” LaBeouf responded.“You’ve got millions of people following you. Why don’t you start a trend trying to aid other people? There are loads of people in the world struggling, loads of scenarios you can help with. People need aid.” “Do you think people need to be listened to?” “Uh, of course they do.” “So what’s going on here?” “You’re listening to me.”
Sure, LaBeouf could be using his celebrity to bring physical aid to others, but, as with LaBeouf’s previous pieces, the intention of #TOUCHMYSOUL was to explore what the concept of “fame” is and how it applies to everyday existence. In #IAMSORRY, LaBeouf wanted to explore how others would approach him and his fame. In #METAMARATHON, he wanted to move alongside others. In #ALLMYMOVIES, he wanted to sit alongside people and share his films with them. “If you think I’m doing this stuff for respect,” he told The Guardian, “it’s the strangest strategy ever developed. No, I’m doing this to connect.”
Though we might not know whether or not LaBeouf was truly affected throughout the four days, it’s safe to say callers certainly were. #TOUCHMYSOUL was indeed a spectacle—one filled with camera phones, various digital mediums, tears, frustration, and laughter—but it was a spectacle actually attempting to bring people together in a way that comments and likes cannot. And that, if nothing else, seems like a start to finding a way to touch someone’s soul.