by Brendan O’Connor
On Tuesday afternoon, the art collective Talibam! organized a public assembly in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The purpose of the assembly was, through collective effort and will, to levitate Vice Media up from its current location at 90 North 11th Street and to deposit it into the nearby East River.
One figures — conservatively — that the building that currently houses VICE Media weighs somewhere around two hundred and eighty-five tons.* For reference, a T-65 X-wing starfighter, such as the one piloted by Luke Skywalker and levitated by the Jedi Master Yoda, is thought to weigh five tons. Yoda generated 19.2 kW of energy lifting that vehicle out of a swamp on the planet Dagobah in 3.6 seconds; to lift VICE Media would require some ninety-one thousand kW, or over forty-seven hundred Yodas.
To levitate the building into the East River, Talibam!’s Matt Mottel invoked the incantation written and delivered by sixties avant-garde rock group The Fugs’ co-founder Ed Sanders when a bunch of hippies tried to levitate the Pentagon in 1967:
In the name of the amulets of touching, seeing, groping, hearing and loving, we call upon the powers of the cosmos to protect our ceremonies in the name of Zeus, in the name of Anubis, god of the dead, in the name of all those killed because they do not comprehend, in the name of the lives of the soldiers in Vietnam who were killed because of a bad karma, in the name of sea-born Aphrodite, in the name of Magna Mater, in the name of Dionysus, Zagreus, Jesus, Yahweh, the unnamable, the quintessent finality of the Zoroastrian fire, in the name of Hermes, in the name of the Beak of Sok, in the name of scarab, in the name, in the name, in the name of the Tyrone Power Pound Cake Society in the Sky, in the name of Rah, Osiris, Horus, Nepta, Isis, in the name of the flowing living universe, in the name of the mouth of the river, we call upon the spirit to raise VICE from its destiny and preserve it.
Then, the noise began: a man with a black and silver electric guitar let his instrument feed-back into its small amplifier; two small children hit drums; another man blew into a recorder. The attempt was unsuccessful. So was a second. A chant of “Out, demons, out,” sprang up. “Let’s try slower this time,” Mottel suggested before a third attempt. It was also unsuccessful. Snow fell. “Well,” Mottel said. “We tried.” People laughed.
but guys, if you levitate Vice into the East River, we’ll just ruin it in 10 years for everyone else anyways
— Ross Neumann (@rossneumann) March 3, 2015
For a final blessing, after promising to return, Mottel led everyone in recitation of a speech from Charlie Chaplin’s 1940 film The Great Dictator:
Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical. Our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost.
VICE Media, of course, is moving from one renovated industrial building in Williamsburg to another — from its long-time home on North 11th Street, across the street from Brooklyn Brewery and down the block from the Wythe Hotel, to South 2nd Street. VICE has been in Williamsburg since 2001 and in its current space — which has expanded over time, subsuming other properties around it, like former-neighbor Beacon’s Closet — since 2004, a year before the massive, hundred-and-seventy-five-block rezoning plan that made Williamsburg what it is today (anodyne and expensive!) went into effect. The company says that about two-thirds of its employees live in the neighborhood, and it will receive a $6.5 million tax break from the state if it meets its hiring goals — to add five hundred and twenty-five employees to the four hundred who already work in the Williamsburg office. VICE will leave behind a roof across which the words “Signs of the times” have been scrawled in capital letters.
Asked what he hoped to achieve — short of levitating VICE Media into the river — Mottel said, “It’s about accountability to the community.” VICE’s move has had the collateral effect of edging out D.I.Y. performance spaces like Glasslands and 285 Kent. “They are responsible to New York City residents — especially the Williamsburg artistic communities that have already begun to be displaced, but also the creative people who increasingly can’t afford to live anywhere in New York.” Mottel further noted that VICE has a responsibility to the (rapidly shrinking) Latino communities of Williamsburg’s South side. VICE did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Vice levitation https://t.co/A9Cvs7PKsy
— Sarah N. Emerson (@SarahNEmerson) March 3, 2015
Attendees at Tuesday’s levitation included an older couple — Yuko Otomo, an artist, and Steve Dalachinsky, a poet — who claimed to have been friends with Sonic Youth during their Lower East Side days. “Well, Thurston. Kim was always very difficult to get along with,” Dalachinsky said. “I was gonna read this anti-bourgeois poem,” he told me, “but I didn’t want to be the last guy to go.” During the demonstration, he and Otomo reveled in the limited clamor. “I’m a guy who grew up but never grew old,” Dalachinsky said.
VICE employees peered over the building’s window sills to take photos with their phones, sheepish grins on their faces. One or two came down the steps to stand in the glass vestibule and watch from behind locked doors. Later, after everyone outside went home, a VICE employee taking a coffee meeting at Konditori, next to the Bedford Avenue subway stop, was very glad to not have to pass through the assembly to get back to her office.
“It’s garbage,” Otomo said, sweeping her arm from copies of VICE magazine strewn across the ground to the building where they were produced, which she had just a few minutes before attempted to levitate. “And then it becomes garbage.”