In 1967, the Yippies tried to levitate the Pentagon as an act of protest against the Vietnam War. The levitation itself was unsuccessful, but it did result in Norman Mailer’s classic book The Armies of the Night. On Tuesday, inspired by the Yippies, musical collective Talibam! attempted to levitate Vice Media’s office off its foundation on North 11th Street and into the East River.
The levitation is a response to Vice Media’s displacement of the music venues Glasslands and Death by Audio, as well as other small businesses, from a building on South 2nd Street that Vice will soon relocate its offices into. Vice’s move has been criticized as hastening Williamsburg’s gentrification and damaging the creative culture that Vice supposedly champions.
The demonstration began at 3:35 PM, when organizer and Talibam! member Matt Mottel recited an invocation to the crowd of 25, about half of whom were press. “I see a problem,” he read. “I see a problem, and it’s coming across the land. They keep building, they keep on building, and it’s destroying our neighborhood. I see this problem, and I got a solution…and I want to see all those buildings go down.”
People were encouraged to put “cultural ephemera” — a broken guitar, cans of expired beer, or whatever else they had on hand — into a red tarp. The items, which represented Williamsburg’s fading creative culture, sat within an arrangement of copies of Vice magazine called the Triangle of Truth.
After another reading, the levitation began. A spell invoking the protection of ancient gods was cast, and then all participants made noise and chanted “out, demon, out!”
The ritual was repeated two more times, and then the final blessing was read. “We tried,” Mottel declared. “I saw it move a little bit.”
The event was tongue-in-cheek, but the point was made. Mottel organized the demonstration to call on Vice to maintain a public dialogue with the community. He wants Vice to provide space in the building for local artists and musicians to practice.
“We need to see that they’re for real,” he said, in regards to Vice’s commitment to supporting Williamsburg’s creative community. He praised Vice for not forcing the demonstration away from in front of the building. A handful of Vice staffers gathered in the building’s vestibule to take photos, and a photographer and reporter from Vice were present at the demonstration.
During the demonstration, a group of European tourists wearing furs and carrying shopping bags from Saks Fifth Avenue came over to see what was happening. They left before I could get a chance to ask them if they understood what was going on, and explain that they are both the people whom Williamsburg’s redevelopment benefits and the people whose New York City experiences will be de-authenticated when moments of weird public performance art like this are no longer possible due to that redevelopment.