We Talked to the Protestors Planning to Levitate Vice HQ Into the East River

Talibam! (via Facebook)
Talibam! (via Facebook)

An ambiguously philosophical music collective is planning to levitate the headquarters of Vice Media into the East River this afternoon, so of course Brooklyn Magazine is on it. You can find the who-what-wheres right over here, and you can RSVP at the Facebook event here (where you’re encouraged to “COME WITH OPEN MINDS & INSTRUMENTS”).

But we had further questions, so we reached out to Matt Mottel and Kevin Shea, the founders of Talibam!, the aforementioned music collective organizing the event. Mottel and Shea see this protest as belonging to a lineage of surreal and outrageous public actions of “participatory art and culture creation,” stretching back to the 1967 attempted levitation of the Pentagon by the Yippies, who were trying to end the Vietnam War. They had a lot to say.

Our conversation with Mottel and Shea, conducted over Facebook, is below. It has been lightly edited for format.

Can you tell me more about what past public actions this one is inspired by?

MOTTEL: Past public actions of non-violent assembly are the inspiration, but furthering this concept with participatory art and culture creation with an improvisatory spirit is great on a cold Tuesday afternoon. If you create an action with a vague definition of what “will happen” you have a greater opportunity to instigate dialogue and communication rather than billboard blather that is the dominant form of Our culture.

SHEA: Humans are creatures of empathy, so all past public actions weigh in with differing proportion in that we are empathetic…we empathize. Our consciousness operates based on the ever-evolving communication between multiple frames of reference, without which we would have no sense of experiential equilibrium. Compassion is one of the main intrinsic consequences of our physiological make-up, a consequence perpetuating individuation through the reconciliation of unique contexts. Empathy engenders experience, and yet empathy can also seemingly justify a personal experience over and above the disjunctive experience of others. Today we hope to explore empathy’s many charms and snares.

You told Brokelyn that the action would use “levitation as the mechanism” to raise awareness of the displacement Vice is causing. Can you elaborate on that? Is the threat of levitation merely a means to get people’s attention?

MOTTEL: The 2005 Williamsburg rezoning was done in such secrecy and with obfuscation of proper community input that it all but set up the current situation for both the neighborhood and future rezonings of other neighborhoods. We cannot live with such hidden real estate schemes at work. The lack of transparency that Vice has had during their takeover of the Kent Avenue building and the 6.5 million dollar tax break they have received to be in that building means that they have to have some sort of accountability to the communities they are displacing. An open dialogue please!

SHEA: There is no language or assembly without a broader understanding of context. Languages are relevant only insofar as they relate and don’t relate to various contexts. Understanding or recognizing the colloquialisms of different contexts helps one to communicate between contexts, reinforce the conventions of a context in-and-of itself, or deliberately manipulate a context. Merely giving precedence to the cues of context when it comes to an assembly like ours makes one’s style and language seem self-contextualized. Ideally we would like to have a more universally-contextualized context where we are not performing based on our sole language development. The context really speaks for itself.

There’s a rehearsal scheduled for 2:34; the actual levitation won’t begin until 3:35. Is there any significance to the 2:34 rehearsal time?

SHEA: I love this idea of setting up arbitrary parameters, and finding your noble way through these parameters like some sort of obstacle course. I am also inspired by the Oulipo writers collective in this way…sometimes by saying things within the guise of a new restriction its possible to more accurately define what you mean, and add more clarity and depth to a statement than you can by simply sticking to your common intuitive program.

What is your connection to the DIY scene in north Brooklyn?

MOTTEL: Talibam! has been performing in North Brooklyn and throughout New York City since 2003. If you haven’t caught us yet because you only get your news and music information from websites that promote bands hyped primarily through PR payola indie corporate pop then maybe you’ve missed out. It’s time to catch up! We’ve put out five studio albums, numerous tapes, vinyl, live recording editions…[We] produce our own YouTube channel, [have] performed with famed choreographer Karole Armitage internationally and collaborated with Japanese fluxist artist Yasunao Tone at the Museum of Modern Art in 2013, [and have] a new record with him coming out soon on German label Karl Records.

What has Vice had to say about this?

SHEA: I believe they might ask, “Can teleology surmount the demons of technology?”

Short of actually depositing Vice HQ in the river, what’s the optimal outcome of this action?

MOTTEL: I’m optimistic about the opportunity for levitation! But short of that, if this can bring forth a proper dialogue between Vice and the multiple communities that have been displaced, that would be a great thing. The reality is that playing at Gasslands or Death by Audio, while hip and cool, was not a sustainable opportunity to be a working professional artist in New York City. Vice has the means, the monies, the tax breaks from the city, and now the space to create the vibrant community that they have become so famous for promoting in so-called underground subcultural realms. It’s time [for] the long term communities of Williamsburg and New York City to have space, training facilities, educational resources, and funded performance and creative incubation space within the new Vice building. Seems reasonable to me, and if this action can facilitate it, so be it.

SHEA: Well, once we get beyond the emotional fervor that is associated with the pursuit of truth and the consequence of not finding it, the emotions might disappear because they can be objectively seen as inhibitions that are unnecessary.

Follow Phillip Pantuso on Twitter @phillippantuso.


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