Volumetric Striation

<!–a series on antony gormley and the origin of "tactile burden", in no particular order–>

Feeling Material - Courtesy of Antony Gormley
Feeling Material VI
Antony Gormley

When Antony Gormley made his presentation at EGS I was struck by an apparent dematerialization of the human body in his work over a period of twenty-five years. The first two works I want to describe here were catalysts for me in "putting it all together", so to speak, as I had never really considered myself someone who critically appreciated or even liked sculpture.

But Feeling Material really spoke to me: for Gormley the project was an attempt to "make the internal space of the body visible as a void … as a still place at the centre of a spiraling energy field," and I could really see a body coming to terms with its relationship to an omnipresent world of electricity and information networks.

The body as producer and consumer of information: while interacting with other bodies in material space it also extends beyond the skin into data networks to interact with other, virtual, bodies. But even in the dematerialized state it is continually presented with the material.

Hence I was intrigued to see the next work in his presentation, Clearing, in which the energy of the body finally sheds its fixity in space and expands to fill the entire container of the room as if a liquid.

Clearing - Courtesy of Antony Gormley
Clearing IV
Antony Gormley

Of Clearing, Antony Gormley writes:

I was trying to destroy the fixed co-ordinates of a room and make a space/ time continuum (a line without end) that was both a thing and a drawing. … This installation acts as a kind of vector field, encouraging the viewer to move through its structure, and in so doing, disrupts the authority of a single-point perspective, necessitating instead a constant renegotiation of the visual field.

If one were to read Gormley's words through a Deleuzian lens, it seems that he seeks to find a smooth space within the rigid enclosure of the room's cuboid structure. The purpose of striating space is to effect a rational logic and constrain the movement and speed of bodies; political docility and productive, economic efficiency and utility. But smooth space presents a challenge to this desired effect of the State, and so there arises a secondary desire: to invert the exterior striation that constrains the body's movement so that it becomes a general striation of the body itself. As mentioned already, this concerns the flows within the body, as with the visioning that occurs in the case of doping and the determination of a "normal" athletic body. But it also serves increasingly to track the body and its contours in an open, fluid space that resists an easy fixed optical perspective necessary for striation. Instead of an optic gaze, we turn to a haptic solution.

As Deleuze illustrates in "Postscript on the Societies of Control," discipline functioned as a series of discrete spaces linked in a process of analogy: the prison was like the factory, which was like the school, and so on. Each space is coded in a fashion related to its striation; the code provides the technique for the striation to take place. With the flowing smoothness of control — the space of continuous modulation — what provides the coding for political control to take place? In the absence of analogy, what is the constant as we move from one environment to the next, in and out of enclosures and boundaries, traversing the passage from real to virtual and back, flowing with migrations great and small as they vector across the planet? The constant code is the code of the body: its internal chemical composition; its fingerprint swipe, retinal scan and DNA profile; its form in a digitized negative space.

Shift V - Courtesy of Antony Gormley Bubble Matrix - Courtesy of Antony Gormley
Shift V
Antony Gormley
Bubble Matrix (vertical swimming pose)
Antony Gormley

Consequently, we might read two of Gormley's later sculptures that fashion the human body in negative space, Shift V and Bubble Matrix, as aesthetic precursors to a political concept that we shall label volumetric striation. This volumetric striation is the capture of the human body in a three-dimensional grid-like form (wireframe), such as what occurs with a motion capture video apparatus. Because of the irregular form of the human body, this striation is not a perfectly rational tesselation of congruent squares covering a plane with horizontal and vertical coordinates, as we see with other striated grid spaces. Instead, it is a connected set of irregularly-shaped polygons covering the surface of a three-dimensional solid form, with the connections dependent on where the nodal points of light have been located on the body. Given the technological constraints of motion capture systems right now, it is not a tight striation that is effected, though it is getting tighter as the technology both improves and lowers its unit cost.

Baudrillard - Screened OutOut of technological necessity, volumetric striation in sporting contexts — for example, with motion capture systems that record player movements to be used in sports videogames — is still reliant upon a referential planar striation, the disciplinary sporting enclosure derived from Foucault in the work of Eichberg, Bale, Shogan and others. We are, however, starting to move away from this relation of dependence. With Michael Jordan's "bullet time" dunk we simulate high-speed photography using a circular arrangement of cameras and synthesize a volumetric form from the collection of produced images. Similarly, ProZone uses many cameras in conjunction with a rectangular soccer pitch to track bodies in smooth space. Finally, the EyeToy captures representation volumetrically using light contrasts before embedding the virtual body in a videogame space.

In other words, it appears that the process of striating the body volumetrically may be detached from the planar striation of the enclosed grid in material space (though it will still continue to be attached to a planar striation of the tabular database form). If Gormley seeks to undermine "the authority of a single-point perspective, necessitating instead a constant renegotiation of the visual field," then "State" politics must also eschew the authority of a single-point perspective in response. As the sporting examples above suggest, connected networks of CCTV cameras used for surveillance purposes, though irregularly distributed throughout cities, may be able to effect a volumetric striation of human bodies in large, open spaces as a technique of panhaptically leveraged control.

Motion capture: Model a subject on the lam in three dimensions. Toggle between first- and third-person perspectives. Simulate likely alternatives. Capture motion.

It is not groundbreaking to recognize that the higher the resolution of such a three-dimensional model, the closer we get to a representation of the "real" human body. Ideally, if we could get a polygonal resolution to the granularity of a skin cell, you would have a "perfect" representation from a visual perspective. But what is important with Gormley's work in Shift V and Bubble Matrix, in my opinion, is that he shows how faithfully one can represent the human form with a minimal number of interconnected polygons. Put in political terms, it seems that he is illustrating how relatively low-resolution the volumetric striation need be in a networked open space to have dramatic consequences for the body being imaged.

The same might currently be said of sports videogames and other communication forms of their ilk. Should we consider the sports-media complex, then, to be part of a larger assemblage we might call the sports-media-control complex?


6 responses to Volumetric Striation

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  1. sportsBabel » Marginal Notes on Notes on Gesture says:

    [...] Motion capture. Captured motion. [...]

  2. sportsBabel » motion capture vs. biological flow says:

    [...] somewhere in between. Our goal during the study next week is to have an embodied experience of "motion capture" and to creatively play within these tensional [...]

  3. sportsBabel » instant karma's gonna get you says:

    [...] examination of chess play, however, we cannot just look at matters on the surface. We must admit the contours and perspectives of the volumetric, just as we must admit the unfolding of a particular linear timeframe while play emerges. Imagine [...]

  4. sportsBabel » Pixel to Pellicule says:

    [...] to the discursive production of "good fan" subjectivity. Does this not already hint at a capture of the gestural deterritorialization into the z-axis? And is this not in a certain way the story of the control society: eliminating [...]

  5. sportsBabel » Pixel to Pellicule to Projection says:

    [...] is the polygon, multiplied and (texture) mapped together to create the screen. It is the logic of volumetric striation and the sports videogame avatar: a large set of differential polygon shapes stitched together that [...]

  6. sportsBabel » Toward a Kinoderm Aesthetics says:

    [...] wore the camera apparatus: an anthropometrically correct screen. After all, we are describing a volumetric body moving relationally with other bodies in the corridors and conduits of biological flow. Do we not [...]