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‘And in the end ‘ Shia LaBeouf’s latest performance art project asks the big question

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What you are left with, after this bizarre, almost boring experience, is perhaps what is most profound: your catalogue of thoughts that didnt make the cut

Its 10pm and Im standing towards the front of a 60-person queue in the underpass at the entrance to the Sydney Opera House. Flanked by snaking roped lanes, in anticipation perhaps of a much larger crowd, a quiet buzz rustles through the polite sprawl of mostly young 20-somethings, ranging from the diehards to the curious.

As part of BingeFest at the Sydney Opera House this weekend, performance art trio Shia LaBeouf, Sde Rnkk and Luke Turner are inviting visitors to deliver to the artists a message that begins with the words: And in the end

Between the hours of midnight and 6am, one by one, audience members enter the auditorium of the Joan Sutherland theatre and respond to this request in any way they see fit.

The two young women at the very front of the line have pink and blue fluoro hair and matching dresses printed with a pattern of LaBeoufs face. A little further along, a group of friends prepared for the long wait, sit on the concrete playing Uno. A quiet man behind me has arrived alone and looks a little nervous. He says he likes the Transformers movies but hasnt done anything like this before and couldnt get any of his friends to come with him. He scrolls down Instagram looking for inspirational quotes, hoping he can take his phone into the auditorium so he doesnt forget what he wants to say.

A 21-year-old from Texas, who helped film the trios previous project #takemeanywhere, has flown all the way to Sydney with his friend to say hi to LaBeouf, Rnkk and Turner. As we wait in the line, he shows me the Harambe memorial tattoo he just got emblazoned on his upper right knee and enthusiastically quips about the trios work, Its all about sincerity and making connections.

In this sense, the performance experience has already begun. Temporary friendships are struck through the common experience of waiting and thinking about a single proposition.

Ticking through everyones mind is a list of potential endings to the sentence And in the end Its a brilliant question, one that asks the thinker to reduce everything down to its essential elements and helps spur on the four hours of waiting in a meditative sort of haze.

And
And in the End at Sydney Opera House as part of Bingefest 2016. Photograph: Daniel Boud

At its most earnest, the proposition asks, what is life in its simplest form? What is the most basic thing I care about? Whats left when you strip back the worries and stresses of everyday life? At its most banal, its a proposition that elicits a sense of 21st century futility, sarcasm and wit, a rejection of the profound in a world that often feels like theres too much going on to be able to make any definitive claims.

As the hours tick by, a rhythm emerges: every few minutes, the next person in line disappears, microphone in hand, through the heavy wooden auditorium door. We see on the live feed andinthend.operahouse.com.au a muted exchange between the audience member and the artists. The sentence is read out by one of the artists and then flashes in large red ticker-tape across the outside of the Sydney Opera House, beamed out an empty midnight Sydney.

AND IN THE END, YOU DO WHAT YOU DO. AND IN THE END, I GUESS I JUST REALLY NEED A HAIR CUT. THATS ALL I GOT MAN. AND IN THE END, GRETCHEN TOTALLY MADE FETCH A THING. AND IN THE END, ITS ONLY THE BEGINNING.

One guy spends 10 minutes in there, running around, gesticulating wildly. Another woman comes out and bursts into tears.

At 2.30am I find myself, finally, at the front of the line, mic in hand, door looming ahead of me, totally at a loss for what to say. Through the door, I enter into the dimly lit auditorium. A cinematic experience, faced with three looming figures on stage. I choose a seat and wait. Um, should I just say the thing?

You can do whatever you want. Shia says. We exchange pleasantries. There is a pause.

And in the end, it was the chicken. Im not sure if they get it. I stand up and walk out.

What you are left with, after this bizarre, almost boring experience, is perhaps what is most profound: your catalogue of thoughts that didnt make the cut. Everything you didnt say, after waiting and thinking for four hours. Theres something ominous about the three figures on stage. Even though audiences are invited to do anything, the artists are physically positioned as the god-like arbiters of an intensely constructed exchange. Its a work that plays to everyones desire for 15 seconds of fame, a desire to feel heard, to participate in something greater, to find meaningful connection through the cult of celebrity. What it tells us about ourselves is somewhat disappointingly but perhaps reassuringly everything we already knew.

Upon leaving, I look back one last time at the red tickertape across the Sydney Opera House and read, AND IN THE END, NOT A SINGLE PERSON QUESTIONED IT.

And in the End takes place again at Sydney Opera House at 10pm on 18 December and 6am on 19 December

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/dec/18/and-in-the-end-shia-labeoufs-latest-performance-art-project-asks-the-big-question

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