Thrownness, or the Zone of the Artwork

Courtesy of Jackson Pollock

Through the drips and flips of his painting technique, Jackson Pollock removes touch from his process — the touch of the arm+hand+brush against the canvas — but this is not to suggest a disappearance of the tactile. Though Pollock moves away from the plane of the rectangular frame, he is still connected to the work proper by the trajectories and fluid dynamics of paint falling to the surface. As such, it is his gesture that comes to the forefront of the work — the whole movement of the painterly body as it expressively sends coloured pigment to the canvas.

We stay in America™ but move from abstract expressionism to baseball. Here, the strike zone constitutes the canvas upon which the pitcher crafts his athletic artwork. Fastball, curveball, changeup, slider are each part of the process, with the knuckleball perhaps most closely approximating the gesture of Pollock's drip technique. Each pitch in the zone counts as a marker of success on the scorecard: when the pitcher most expresses virtuosity he is said to be painting the corners; at other times he is just outside. But a pitch on or off the canvas is not simply a matter of success or failure, for being outside the zone can sometimes be considered a strategic move.

Courtesy of Sportvision

As the baseball catcher will point out, it can be advantageous to spend a certain allocation of gestures in such a way as they are not to hit the canvas; that is, to call for balls to be thrown out of the strike zone so as to modulate the posture of the opposing hitter and throw him off balance. She cannot make such a strategic decision too often, however, since four balls equals a walk and the beginning of the run production process for the offensive team. Further, the pitcher's skill is such that a particular called pitch will not be executed with true delivery every time, and balls called by the umpire will occur. While gesture is where athletic poiesis may be located, the game is still played in the frame.

Of course he and she can as easily be she and he (and everything in between). The point is not so much the singular biological body that performs the role of catcher, but rather the catcher's affective modulation of pitching, hitting and adjudicating bodies through a proximity of flesh resonance that we have come to identify as the feminine — expressed in the signal of the called pitch. Ronell's figure of the switchboard operator looms present in this context, though the linguistic signals of telecommunication have been replaced, at least in part, by a more subtle consideration of co-resonance with these three other performing bodies.

Fastball

This is not to deny the catcher a body of her own. For she feels the game in her body: the aching rotator cuff is a lifetime of throws to pick off a doubting runner at second; the lump from a roughly healed clavicle the ossiferous knot archiving the collision from a stand taken at home plate; the deep stiffness in both knees signifying the cyborgian gesture of the positional crouch as it makes minor adjustments in tango with the hitter at the plate. Her embodiment stands as both a fleshy, visceral living-through of every inning played and practice pitch thrown, as well as an incomplete archive of these switchboard modulations. Pain remembers pain, after all.

Courtesy of Namuth and Pollock

Pollock teaches baseball that the poiesis of the thrown ball remains in the gesture itself, rather than any archive or record of the work (and its subsequent capture by econometric modeling). In turn, baseball perhaps suggests to Pollock that the artwork consists not just of those splatters and drips of paint that eventually find their way onto the canvas, but also those that miss the zone completely. It suggests that these are not errors for the artist, nor wasted pigment, but rather strategic omissions from the act of inscribing, manifest with each gesture as an abstract expression of affective choice from the embodied memory of thousands of like movements. As such, they should be understood as part of the total artwork.

But who is Jackson Pollock's catcher? Is it Pollock himself? Is it the work of art? Is it Lee Krasner? Peggy Guggenheim and the art market? An open-ended relation? Is it Dasein?

Is this why Pollock was allegedly so rattled by Hans Namuth's documentary Jackson Pollock 51, in which the photographer captured the gestural process of Pollock's technique by shooting up through a clear pane of glass? That in staring through the zone of the artwork, Pollock's catcher-switch was revealed to himself as the archive of the archive, visibly apparent as the technological gaze of the movie camera?

(happy birthday to the switch, and many thanks for calling a good game)

Desert Split

Courtesy of Sony

If we agree that in the near future online console war videogames constitute the potential for crowdsourcing a "swarm-in-being," which may be leveraged in combat operations conducted by national armed services or private militia forces, then we must consider how the aesthetics of perception are entwined with these political ends.

What are the consequences of differential frames of perception between the two spaces — the videogamer toggling between first-person and third-person perspectives during play, while the actual military operation remains resolutely first-person, embodied and volumetric?

The task of developing the swarm-in-being appears to be twofold: to create and modulate a hypermediated representation of warfare for the gamer at home, but also to develop tools for the soldier in the field that similarly allow for toggling between first-person and third-person subjectivities. This newest mutation of Virilio's logistics of perception sees Desert Storm, Desert Shield and Desert Screen yielding to the topology of Desert Split.

the witness squad

if: we understand the role of the spectator at the stadium as that of flesh witnessing the sports event,

and: we also understand the decline in consumer demand for game tickets occurring in many markets,

then: do we not understand initiatives like andrew bogut's squad 6 as examples of athletic labour incurring the cost of its own witnessing?

if so: how will the trialectic relationship develop that sees sporting empire and athletic labour battle for control of the spectator-witness?

Transmission

Suely Rolnik, 'The Body’s Contagious Memory: Lygia Clark’s Return to the Museum':

"The characteristically activist operation, with its macropolitical potential, intervenes in the tensions that arise in visible, stratified reality, between the poles of conflict in the distribution of places established by the dominant cartography within a given social context (conflicts of class, race, gender, etc.). Activist intervention is inscribed in the heart of these conflicts, situating itself at the position of the oppressed and/or the exploited, with the aim of fighting for a more just configuration of society. Whereas the characteristic operation of artistic intervention, with its micropolitical potential, acts on the tension of the paradoxical dynamic located between the dominant cartography with its relative stability, on the one hand, and on the other, the sensible reality in continuous change, the product of the living presence of otherness that ceaselessly affects our bodies. Such changes tense up the current cartography, until they finally produce collapses of meaning. These become manifest in crises of subjectivity that impell the artist to create, so as to lend expressivity to the sensible reality that generates this tension. Artistic intervention is inscribed in the performative plane – whether visual, musical, verbal or otherwise – carrying out irreversible changes in the reigning cartography. Becoming embodied in artistic creations, those changes make them into the bearers of a contagious power at the moment of their reception. As Guattari writes: 'When an idea is valid, when a work of art corresponds to a genuine mutation, articles explaining it in the press or on TV aren’t necessary. It’s transmitted directly, as fast as the Japanese flu.' In short: with activism we find ourselves facing the tensions inherent to conflicts on the level of the cartography of visible and utterable reality (the plane of stratification that delimits subjects, objects and their representations); with art we face the tensions between this plane and the one already foreshadowed in the diagram of sensible reality, invisible and unutterable (the plane of flows, intensities, sensations and becomings). The first one convokes mainly perception, and the second one, sensation."

Moebius - Sean Smith - 2010

moebius
2010
nylon basketball mesh

topological hoops; moebius flip, locus of style; relational fibres severed, cauterized; relational optics; walking with lygia clark; thresholds, polygons, shadows, representations.

Moebius - Sean Smith - 2010

moebius
2010
(detail)

June, 2008: But can one calculate the obsession of the basketball player who finds his ultimate expression under the harsh-soft light of the arena as he enters a state of flow?

"Obsession makes life intensive … so long as you are capable of forgetting" (Schirmacher).

He cannot forget. His courage in the arena does not extend to his entire life technique. Nor will it. Condensation forms on the designer sunglasses he wears to the post-game press conference. Tears of a cyborg body that mask the emotions he must always conceal, repress, make absent. "For there is no end to the folly of the human heart" (Woolf).

Scientifically Framing the Artwork

Courtesy of Ted Williams

"My first rule of hitting was to get a good ball to hit. I learned down to percentage points where those good balls were." — Ted Williams, The Science of Hitting, 1970

"And not only shouldn't we look to technique or the economy for the secrets of the code; it is, on the contrary, the very possibility of industrial production that we should look for in the genesis of the code and the simulacra. … [T]he entire order of production is in the process of tumbling into operational simulation." — Jean Baudrillard, Simulations, 1983

Relational Fibres and Optics

Terror

Amber Scoon's recent art works freak me out. Sheer terror, viscerally felt.

Dawn, Crepuscular

The year is 1972, three months after I was born. As the corona of the sun rises over the crest of the Earth's surface, the astronauts of the Apollo 17 lunar module look back to take a photo. The space travelers responsible for the image are barely tethered to the planet by the just-perceptible pull of its gravity and an even less perceptible umbilicus of electromagnetic spectrum and machinic communication protocol. Beyond lies nothing but cosmology and its sense of the void. Simultaneously colossal and microscopic, the "Blue Marble" image inspires great awe across Earth and hints at the emergence of a new regime of scopic perception.

Courtesy of NASA

It is poised on the precipice of detachment and sheer terror, then, that the crew of the Apollo 17 produces an image of unspeakable beauty, a work of and for the imagination.

I meet Amber nearly four decades later in the spring of 2008. At first she is an image as well, all blue jeans and fitted black jacket and checked scarf standing against a painted Hollywood backdrop of impossible Swiss mountains and sunshine. But, almost inversely to the "Blue Marble" photo, the amber-image begins to decompress, expand its data, unfold. Figure emerges from ground, fibrous, to give birth to a new instance of relationality. Might we suggest that these fibres grew in a moebius form, not unlike with Apollo 17, the gravitational pull between two bodies twisting or flipping into an umbilicus of communication and protocol?

Several

We are each constituted by more than one of these relational moebius strips, each of us several in our singularity. These relational fibres grow at rates different for each unique relation, to different thicknesses or densities of weave. Each one may be shorter or longer in total surface and decay at a different rate, despite being woven of essentially the same stuff.

Courtesy of Amber Scoon

amber scoon
autoimmune wall (trying not to fall - phase 2)
2008
string, screws, wood

This is because the "stuff" of which they are woven is both organic and technic, born of flesh, gesture and linguistic interface. And as these relations move to fibre optic communication networks there emerges a doubling or higher degree of complexity to the assemblage, with the moebius relations themselves becoming subject to a new moebius topology bounded by the here of local presence and the now of (nearly) instantaneous electronic transmission. These fibres, too, become subject to the rationality of industrial agriculture, this time in the form of social networking.

Tango

Each of us forms a node in a broader network of these moebius relations. The web weaves through spaces and places both material and informational, mappings and tracings alike left in the wake of its continual emergence. But we must remember that this web emerges first and foremost from the moving body. The larger one's node in the network becomes, the greater potential for this moving body to form knots in these relations, knots somatically registered with a particular sense of anxiety.

Courtesy of Amber Scoon

amber scoon
falling (#1)
2009
fabric, string, rope, rock

The moving body finds itself bound in a relational tango, to borrow the abstract diagram of intersubjective micropolitics suggested by Erin Manning. Or, already being several, it finds itself in a series of moebius part-dances with other individuals that attempt not to cross footsteps: as one body releases from the other in tango, given the space from which it may choose to return (anxiety), a differential space is opened in which other part-dances and their relational fibres may intersect or form knots and entanglements.

The body thus finds itself in dances of relation, yes, but also in separate dances of disentanglement — the unweaving of knotty potentials and their somatic consequences.

Matrix

"I hear it feels like you escape gravity."

So breathlessly whispers the awed female reporter to Dan Davis, the elite American sprinter and protagonist of "World Record," one of the animated short films featured in the Animatrix anthology. Davis is returning to top form after having been stripped of a previous world record race time and is poised to run in the finals of a major competition the following day. Though he faces a private battle of self-doubt concerning his comeback, Davis is all bravado and sexuality as he crosses the hotel lobby toward the elevator, reporter in tow.

"It's like nothing in this world."

Of course Dan Davis — like everyone else in this cast of characters — lives in the Matrix, the Wachowski-inspired simulation of reality born of statistical method and synthetic perception. This matrixial alter-reality serves to keep docile an entire breed of domesticated humans that provide bioelectrical power to the machines that have supplanted Homo sapiens on the evolutionary ladder. As Paul Virilio notes in Open Sky, escape velocity on a world scale of bodies — or space colonization — has proven to be an empty dream. Empire thus turns inward to endocolonize its subjects, not least through those information technologies that interface directly with the human body. Not only does Dan Davis' performance at the stadium produce gravitational resonance with the others who run with him, but the race video and timing systems also produce information that is then fed back into the simulation.

The narrator reminds us at the beginning of the film that only the most exceptional people — through intuition, sensitivity, and a questioning nature — become aware of the Matrix. Under certain circumstances, however, others may gain this insight as well. Our protagonist is hampered by an injured quadriceps muscle as he steps into the starting blocks for the finals, but Agents from the Matrix are on hand to monitor his performance. The gun fires, the runners blast from the blocks and accelerate down the track. With his huge elegant strides, Davis edges into the lead as the pack approaches the finish line. All of a sudden the muscle fibres of Davis' quadriceps are pushed to rupture; he nearly breaks stride. With time slowing down, Davis redoubles his determination and pushes through the pain that screams from this fleshy biomechanical lever responsible solely for producing speed.

The Agents are alerted to a possible security breach in the network. They attempt to capture him.

Courtesy of The Animatrix

Suddenly time stops, or more precisely, folds in upon itself. The pain is unbearable, but for a split-second goes unnoticed. The floating numerical linguistics of time, space and athletic performance envelop his body, immanently, revealing themselves as part of the broader weave of mathematics and image that creates the simulation. He is beyond the grasp of the Agents. Dan Davis has become aware of the Matrix.

For the rest of us still stuck here, however, a few questions are in order. Is it simply the pursuit of raw, unadulterated speed that makes one aware of its existence? After all, Davis had already broken the world record before, abetted by pharmaceuticals or no. Why hadn't he become aware already? Did he reach an objective switch point with his new world record time of 8.33 seconds, which propelled him into a different channel on the network or granted him passage beyond?

No. Dan Davis became aware of the Matrix when his moving athletic body reached a strategic nexus of speed, poiesis and pain.

Tumour

In Growth and AutoImmune Wall, Amber displays a similar awareness of the matrixial web in which we exist. The pain is of a different sort, however. With each work, one imagines the countless hours invested, the permutations and combinations of the weave, all felt in the supple yet dull ache of the artist's fingers. In this familiarity with the fibres one perceives time folded and compressed into a static artwork that strains at the very seams of its emergent process.

Amber is decidedly ambivalent about the connective fibres that form our relations. Though each work exhibits a lushness in its sinewy fabric, each also embodies the accidents of tangle, rupture and decay. In other words, they possess organic qualities that complement the technical elements of the fibre's production. Since each is made of the same "stuff" — namely, twine and string — this ambivalence becomes even more apparent when the pieces are taken together in an assemblage that includes her earlier Wool Boxes, the more recent Falling and Skin Series, and the collaborative work Cancer, Crack and Chinese Shoes.

Courtesy of Amber Scoon

amber scoon
growth
2009
twine, wool, string

Curiously, this proposition makes more sense in resonance with a recent quote by Garrick Barr, CEO of Synergy Sports Technology, a company that provides a real-time video-indexing statistical engine and online retrieval system for professional sports teams: "So we have 11 generic play types. In '98 when I designed the first report, I had to sort of examine and figure out, if you will, the oncology of the sport so that we could log it accurately and consistently to satisfy professionals, and having been one I was in a pretty good position to try to do that" (italics added).

Generally speaking, ontology is the philosophical means of describing our very being in the world or what it means to exist, while oncology concerns the medical study and treatment of cancer. It seems that the typo in Barr's quote exists as noise in a signal system, no? Though such interference patterns appear increasingly normative, one supposes certain errors are worse than others.

In this case, however, the typo may be illustrative. The word ontology assumes a different meaning in the information sciences, understood instead as the study of rationally-determined relationships that govern a particular data set within a particular domain. This sort of attempt to develop an ontology of relationships present during the production of a professional sporting event, with ever-more minute striations of the athletic body yielding ever-less notable differences, is precisely such a mutation in process one would consider an oncological risk factor. When one examines the contemporary economics and politics of professional sport, one perceives an exponential accumulation of database entries and self-referential linguistic production in the service of vectoral capital, which is turning back in on itself to form what was first referred to by Jean Baudrillard as the cancer produced by the society of simulation.

These relations of athletic bodies emerge during the event, for they are moving bodies, and as such should be considered ontogenetic, to use the term proposed by Brian Massumi. But considering the attempt to capture this relational emergence in the service of self-referential capital, as with Synergy Sports Technology and its ilk, we might also consider them oncogenetic, or possessing the potential under certain conditions to spawn exponentially cancerous growths. One weaves and weaves and weaves, fingers supple and aching, only to find cancer and death.

Tensility

One of the lessons we may learn from Antony Gormley's career of autobiographical study in sculpting the human form is a progressive dematerialization of the body as it integrates with networks of data. Indeed, in works such as the Feeling Material series, this dematerialization is felt in his "least material necessary" strategy, with the body beginning to orbit and shed its fixity in space and time.

While Gormley seems primarily concerned with studies of the body proper, however, Amber inquires after the relations between bodies. As such, process becomes ever more evident and the body is less represented than it is invested: how much fibre is required for the relation to be woven thick and sturdy?

Or, to follow the minimalism of Gormley's Feeling Material one might rather ask: how little?

Courtesy of Amber Scoon

amber scoon
wool box 5
2006
wool, string, wood

Can a shared train ride to Paris or an espresso under the warm gaze of coastal sunshine be sufficient? Can eye contact, the original scopic regime of relation, provide sufficient resonance in relief from the backdrop of spectacle? Can one's degree of exposure provide a basis for understanding these emerging fibres of relation?

Excision

Though each of us certainly possesses multiple relations that condition the possibilities of our everyday, it behooves us to imagine for a moment being the astronaut photographer mentioned earlier, having only the singular weave of fibres maintaining one's tether to the Earth. Would you risk that organic and technic are in fact discrete categories of relation and chance the oncological consequences that might dynamically emerge in either? Or, if the moebius strip thesis resonates as false, would you wager that the gravitational pull of the planet and the communication link with ground control were distinct entities? If so, which would you choose to sever in order to excise a potentially cancerous tumour: that which maintains the presence of the other body, or that which allows for language to exist?

Courtesy of The Animatrix

Which gives birth to unspeakable beauty?

Perhaps in this last question lie the strands of my own sheer terror.