The most electrifying new exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens isn’t inside the museum; it’s a black orb attached to an outside wall. Above it is the name of the newest LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner art project, “HE WILL NOT DIVIDE US.” That orb is a camera connected to a 24/7 livestream, an invitation for anyone anywhere to bear witness.
The directions are simple enough: “The public is invited to deliver the words “HE WILL NOT DIVIDE US” into a camera … repeating the phrase as many times, and for as long as they wish.” And that’s what people do: A group of teens locks arms and jumps up and down yelling it, a singer passionately riffs in a solo with her back turned to it, it’s whispered in a low chant.
Expanding on the theme of voyeurism central to previous LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner projects such as “#ALLMYMOVIES” and “#ANDINTHEEND,” the museum’s exhibition is a participatory performance piece that will be live-streamed continuously for four years or for the duration of the presidency, whichever comes first.
According to the artists’ statement, “HE WILL NOT DIVIDE US” acts as a show of resistance or insistence, opposition or optimism, guided by the spirit of each individual participant and the community.”
As one of the artists in the trio, Shia LaBeouf has been an on-camera fixture morning, noon, and night since the livestream launched at 9 a.m. on January 20. But what could at first be dismissed as a fruitless passion project is truly breathtaking in person.
It’s a four-minute walk from my apartment to MOMI, and as I turned right at the Starbucks that leads to the back corner of the museum where the exhibit is installed, I dreaded the potential social awkwardness. It was 1:30 a.m. on a Saturday, January 21, and given the wonderful insanity that a NYC neighborhood can be at that hour, I wasn’t sure what I would find.