The art collective behind “He Will Not Divide Us,” a live stream project installed at the Museum of the Moving Image on Jan. 20, released a statement arguing that the museum showed a “spectacular lack of judgement” after they abruptly removed the project four weeks later.
The installation created by LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner, an art collective that features actor Shia LeBeouf, consisted of a camera mounted on a wall outside of the museum that streamed worldwide. Participants were encouraged to say the words “he will not divide us” into the camera. The museum had planned to keep the camera there for four years, until the next presidential inauguration.
On Feb. 10, the museum at 36-01 35th Ave. shut down the project, citing “serious public safety hazards” including “dozens of threats of violence and numerous arrests.” LaBeouf was also arrested on the site four days after the project premiered after getting into a scuffle with a participant. The installation was moved to El Ray Theater in Albuquerque, NM, on Feb. 18.
The art collective argued that the museum had “abandoned” the project and that “their evident lack of commitment to the project is damning.”
“From the outset, the museum failed to address our concerns about the misleading framing of our piece as a political rally, rather than as a participatory performance artwork resisting the normalization of division,” the statement read.
On Jan. 29, Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer held a rally at the site to condemn hate speech. Hundreds of Queens residents showed up and participated by chanting “he will not divide us” into the camera. But the art collective said they were never consulted about the rally.
The artists also said that they “voiced serious concerns to the museum about hate speech occurring at the site of our project, and requested that the museum act responsibly in moderating this and providing the public a means of reporting such incidents.”
Their requests were reportedly never acknowledged by the museum. According to Buzzfeed, Trump supporters and neo-Nazi’s were using sites like 4Chan and Reddit to plan and organize harassment campaigns against installation participants.
A few days after the project was installed, a man went up to the camera and repeated Nazi phrases such as “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children” and the number 88, an abbreviation for the Nazi salute Heil Hitler.
On Jan. 23, another passerby went up to the camera and repeated, “Hitler did nothing wrong.”
Florence Koulouris, district manager of Community Board 1, said she received calls from residents living in the area who were sometimes scared to leave their house because of crowds congregating not only at the museum but on their stoops.
“Our office received telephone complaints from resident who live in the neighborhood due to the fact that people were congregating at the site and also going to their private properties whether it be on their front stoop or in the alleyways,” Koulouris previously told QNS. “In addition to that, it was a burden on the community due to the fact of the necessity of the police at the location consistently.”
The artists were notified that their project would be removed through a letter from the museum’s attorney.
“It is our understanding that the museum bowed to political pressure in ceasing their involvement with our project,” the statement continued.
The Museum of the Moving Image had not responded to a request for comment as of publication time.