Pixel to Pellicule

Courtesy of agu2000_de at Flickr

If we are to give full consideration to Deleuze and Guattari's concept of the body without organs we cannot allow our analysis to remain simply in the domain of those organ systems responsible for intelligence (brain, networked server farm), circulation (heart, stock market), or filtration (kidney, casino). We must also consider the largest organ of them all, at least as far as humans are concerned: the skin, that surface which is folded and wrapped from the two-dimensional so as to enclose a particular volume.

The skin is part of the integumentary system, designed to protect the interior of the volume as well as regulate the exchange of flows through its enclosing membrane. It also has an expressive role that is bound in a nexus of power relations: whether we are discussing the human dermis, clothing and fashion, the social networking profile page, or the buildings of the city, the skin constitutes the primary locus of organization for the body situated in a system predicated upon the optic (as with identification), even if this optic is based in touch (as with inscription).

The integumentary system of our artificial living consists of a series of interconnected layers, from the subcutaneous, dermis and epidermis; to hair, nails, horn and pelt; to clothing and architecture; to that vast and mostly invisible network of communication protocols we call the internet. Indeed, as McLuhan suggests, "in the electric age we wear all mankind as our skin." But these layers do not sit neatly upon one another, sedimented in neat parallel striae; there is rather a slippage between layers, a series of foldings and touch points emerging from the integumentary movements and flows. Call it skin tectonics: the shifts and rumbles between various layers that may at times rupture or crack the "surface".

Courtesy of Aphex Twin + Chris Cunningham

aphex twin
come to daddy
1997
still from music video (dir. chris cunningham)

The disciplining of the sporting spectator during the 19th and 20th centuries (as outlined by Bale) serves to render this mass of individuals a temporary layer or component of the stadium architecture. When the spectators flowing into the stadium come to rest in their grid of seating coordinates, they form a layer of skin on top of the architecture of the building. They, too, comprise a part of its surface. The skins of the audience members present covering the architectural form of the stadium suggests a rejection of the anthropocentric view that all media are necessarily extensions of our human bodies, as with McLuhan. They appear instead to be remixable components of our always already living artificially. And as the stadium card stunt suggests, they are programmable components as well.

The disciplined spectator-body has a constrained set of opportunities for free movement in the x- and y-axes of the stadium's seats — the striated space that allows for the card stunt to function. One may traverse prescribed conduits of flow (eg. to concessions or lavatories), but expressive movement is certainly curtailed. Spectators are, however, able to move more expressively in the z-axis: rising to one's feet, jumping up and down, standing to offer an ovation. These are responses to some important moment on the field of play, though, responses to an event. What about embodied expression — understood as movement in the z-axis — during the interval between these moments of intense response?

This is the domain of the Wave, that collective audience gesture in which successive groups of spectators (understood vertically along the y-axis of the seating grid) briefly stand and raise their arms, slightly following in time those adjacent to them so as to achieve an oscillating wave that flows through the sports stadium. The Wave disguises itself as a blast whose shockwave ripples out from some epicenter and travels in circular fashion around the building, but each instance begins rather as a contagion, at least when catalyzed "spontaneously" by fans. This contagion has a two-fold function: first, to signify the beginning of what will ultimately become an asignifying multiplicity and communicate that information in a micro-relational sense to those in adjacent seats; and second, to introduce a vector of transmission for the gesture as it flips from contagion to blast — either clockwise or counterclockwise around the stadium.

(By way of contrast examine the micropolitics of stadium contagion when not transformed into the waveform blast rhythm, as with the chaos that was the Heysel Stadium disaster. Baudrillard suggests in The Transparency of Evil that Heysel confirms precisely "why the public must simply be eliminated, to ensure that the only event occurring is strictly televisual in nature. Every real referent must disappear so that the event may become acceptable on television's mental screen" [p.80].)

Although the exact origins of the Wave are uncertain — as if one could pinpoint the precise evolutionary moment that a meme "begins", particularly one that is gestural (unless of course it had been engineered in a laboratory) — its emergence can be located during the 1970s and 1980s, which is to say the era when the society of spectacle most fully realizes the analysis offered by Debord. Its relationship to the image, then, merits closer attention.

Courtesy of Vironevaeh at Flickr

Recall that the spectator becomes part of the skin of the stadium building — a stippling perhaps, or a texture map. While the Wave begins with the same logic of enclosure and partitioning that enables the pixelated card stunt, it breaks out of this visual field of resolution to undulate around the stadium: the screen refresh of the card stunt yields to an orbital revolution that is asignifying except as an expression of its own existence, the gesture as pure mediality (cf. Agamben).

Two interrelated problems confront the Wave, however, in any consideration of it as a collective (even if not consciously so) act of resistance against sporting capital and its disciplinary subject positions. The first involves the question of agency as it relates to each individual in the multiplicity of audience bodies that rise in waveform at the stadium. Antonia Hirsch's Vox Pop is illustrative in this regard. While the work expresses the uncanny nature of the Wave gesture when decontextualized from its normal collective formation, it also forces us to consider the opposite: What sort of agency does the individual have to refuse as the mass tide of movement comes bearing down?

Courtesy of Antonia Hirsch

antonia hirsch
vox pop
2008
still from 2-channel video installation

While the catalysis of the Wave's apparent spontaneity at one time belonged to certain highly identified fans, today it is just as likely to be started by stadium operations as part of the total spectacle. Agency is further compromised by the foldings of vision — lenses and screens, both organic and technic, that contribute 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 mandatory, top-down protocols when the micropolitics of local relation will accomplish many of the same goals? As Deleuze and Guattari propose, fascism "involves a war machine … [it] is constructed on an intense line of flight, which it transforms into a line of pure destruction and abolition" (ATP, p. 230). The volumetric line of the z-axis, the vectoral line of the waveform — both must answer to this line of questioning.

Which leads us to the second problem of the Wave as gestural micropolitics: the relationship between surfaces and volumes (a corporeal lacuna that haunts the thought of Flusser). While the Wave today is indeed an affair often deliberately coordinated by stadium personnel, it most certainly retains the possibility of being a purely positive expression triggered by an individual cluster of fans. But if we follow Agamben and Deleuze to understand that the element of cinema and the pellicule of film is gesture rather than image, then it must follow that the inverse is true as well: while it may indicate some other set of spatiotemporal coordinates, either indexically or otherwise, gesture as such remains ultimately bound by the skin.

Courtesy of David Cronenberg

david cronenberg
videodrome
1983
still from film

The myriad forms of perspectival gaze merely adjust their focal depth, so to speak, such that the integumentary function is lifted in relief to capture the Wave as but another surface phenomenon. Purely positive expression or no, the gesture of the Wave ceases to fulfill what Agamben would refer to as a means without ends — "the exhibition of the media character of corporal movements" — and becomes instead the finality without means that sustains this project of integrated representation. Put differently, the praxis of the wave-as-gesture is emptied of its political significance as it folds back into the produced pellicule of sporting spectacle.

Or is it? The gestural body is a moving body, and is thus always already a political one as well. The logic of skin tectonics suggests that such a moving body will never be fully captured by the tightness of its spectacular skin, for there will always be a slippage between integumentary layers. And it is this slippage that constitutes the contemporary zone of opportunity, of resistance, and of indifference.

Comments

6 responses to Pixel to Pellicule

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  1. paul boshears says:

    This is excellent, Sean

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