The Painted

What is it to paint as one moves through urban space as a walking subject? It is to fashion an aesthetic understanding of the body as it contours through the other objects that form the dynamism of its experiential canvas. But is it really painting that we are describing? The technical apparatus of aesthetic reproduction has changed dramatically since the time of Baudelaire: painting with oily pigments has yielded to painting with light, the photographic and cinematographic introducing a new politics to the art of walking in the city.

Today one is as likely to experience oneself as a walking subject by composing still shots of the surrounding environment. We have become expert at the composition of the everyday, at enframing the image to the rectilinear form and reducing the volumetric to the planar. If we make mistakes in this enframing, we can cut, crop, delete, edit, purge or otherwise relegate our detritus to the cutting room floor of the kinaesthetic imaginary, for we have also become expert at the manufacture of excess.

The aesthetics of the photograph as we move through the city are complicated when walking cedes to what McLuhan described as the "amputation" of one's legs in the automobile form. The walk as a disconnected set of imagined photographs becomes the continuously rolling kinematic image of the cinema as seen through the screen of the windshield, what Virilio has described as the art of the motor.

And in speeding up the image thusly we also find a reversal in the subjectivity of the walker: no longer the painter of modern life, we have become the painted of the postmodern. We move through a streetscape as if the lead actor in a movie, wondering how the director is composing the scene or imagining the perfect soundtrack to capture its emotional tenor.

In the aesthetic lies the political, for in the contemporary city we are indeed all characters in a cinematic production, the archiving of everyday life under the rubric of an ever-contingent notion of risk and security. There is no soundtrack to this cinema, no rousing symphonic score or pounding techno breakbeat, but only the barely-audible hiss of white noise to accompany the otherwise bleak visual tracks from which nothing is relegated to the cutting room floor.

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