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)

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