Could Shia LaBeouf’s ‘HEWILLNOTDIVIDE.US’ Come to ArtPrize?
"HEWILLNOTDIVIDE.US" is a controversial piece of performance art which invites the public to repeat the words "he will not divide us" into a camera.
The piece was installed in New York on the day of Trump's inauguration. It has been taken down after "dozens of threats of violence and numerous arrests."
The artists, including Shia LaBeouf, say they will continue with the project.
Could "HEWILLNOTDIVIDE.US" come to ArtPrize?
"HEWILLNOTDIVIDE.US" was created by artists Shia LaBeouf, Nastja Säde Rönkkö and Luke Turner. The artwork encourages people to stand and say "he will not divide us" as they face into a camera which is live streaming. Participants are encouraged to say the phrase as many times as they wish.
After "HEWILLNOTDIVIDE.US" opened in January the Museum of the Moving Image explained the intent of the piece:
"He Will Not Divide Us" embraces the idea of unity. It is a work of art that combines real-time participation both on- and offline and invites a wide range of media response—from social media as well as news outlets. As such, it is open to interpretation and discussion. The piece is what the audience/participants make of it. We welcome participants of all political viewpoints to be part of the work and expect all to behave with common decency and respect for others.
The response to the work has been overwhelmingly positive from the millions of people who have experienced it either in person or online. The vast majority of the interactions in person have been peaceful, sometimes breaking into impromptu concerts, featuring people of different ages, ethnicities, races, and political positions connecting in productive dialogue. Some in the media and others have misconstrued the work as an “anti-Trump protest.” That is not the intention of the artwork. We have had both supporters and critics of President Trump participate in the performance; these interactions have been almost entirely peaceful. "
Those interactions evolved to include arrests and threats of violence, including the arrest of LaBeouf for allegedly grabbing and pushing a man. The Museum of the Moving Image explains their decision to have the art removed:
The installation created a serious and ongoing public safety hazard for the Museum, its visitors, staff, local residents, and businesses.
The installation had become a flashpoint for violence and was disrupted from its original intent.
While the installation began constructively, it deteriorated markedly after one of the artists was arrested on the site of the installation and ultimately necessitated this action. Over the course of the installation, there have been dozens of threats of violence and numerous arrests, such that police felt compelled to be stationed outside the installation 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Ending our engagement with the installation is the most prudent path forward to restore public safety to the Museum, its visitors, staff, and the community.
The artists, LaBeouf, Rönkkö and Turner, say that while the museum has given up on the project, they have not.
Where could "HEWILLNOTDIVIDE.US" go next?
The list of possibilities is a long one. A tour of the country could happen and a stop in Grand Rapids would take on added meaning with the event's ties to the DeVos family and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
Last week, ArtPrize was “compelled to speak out” and issued a statement sharing their mission and guiding principles. The statement covered Trump, refugees, free speech and education. ArtPrize also discussed art as "providing a meeting ground for dissent."
It is possible some artists could stay away from ArtPrize this year as a form of protest, but ArtPrize would prefer those artists enter the competition to share their thoughts and push the conversation. There's no question "HEWILLNOTDIVIDE.US" pushes those boundaries.
Would violence be a concern if the "HEWILLNOTDIVIDE.US" were to be installed in Grand Rapids? Maybe. It's definitely something that should be prepared for considering the history of the piece. Additional security could be necessary.
Finding a place to install "HEWILLNOTDIVIDE.US" would not be a problem. There are multiple indoor venues with ample space for the installation, although this is a piece which would be best placed outdoors. Calder Plaza, the Blue Bridge and the Gillett Bridge come to mind.
ArtPrize has always been about the conversation. It's a focus which has increased in recent years as ArtPrize continues to grow the Critical Discourse series. With Trump as our president, the conversation this fall will likely be louder than ever and an entry like "HEWILLNOTDIVIDE.US" could elevate that discussion even further.