Memories of Venice

"Intuition is neither a feeling, an inspiration, nor a disorderly sympathy, but a fully developed method." (Gilles Deleuze)

Surgery

Inspired by the Brazilian artist Lygia Clark and her artworks featuring relational meshes, moebius strips and moving bodies, the artist locates the basketball mesh as a canvas upon which to explore a program of research-creation.

The mesh is actually a symmetrical grid whose striations link together at every knotty intersection. The immediate intuition is to cut it vertically down one side and lay it flat on the table, before giving the half-twist-and-reconnect required to form a moebius strip. The basketball mesh has now become a moebius mesh.

Surgery

Since the mesh is mass-produced in Taiwan with fibres made of synthetic nylon, the act of reconnection is accomplished by melting the severed ends together with a disposable butane lighter. Most cuts are treated; the ends are charred; bits of hot liquid nylon stick to the artist's fingers. The air is toxic.

Consider this intuitive operation to have been a stainless steel incision and cauterization inflicted upon a moebius topology that recognizes scant distinction between subject and object positions. Consider it to have been surgery.

Shibari

The artist acquires a second mesh canvas upon which to experiment. This time, however, the intuition is to take a spool of brightly coloured thread and begin to wrap it around the synthetic nylon fibre. Around and around, always in a clockwise fashion around the girth of the mesh.

Shibari

The artist stays in one segment of the basketball mesh, between two knots, for an indeterminate number of revolutions until it is felt time to move on. The thread is then wrapped around the knot and into the next segment, and so on until that particular spool is exhausted. Another colour begins and the psychogeographical drift through the segments of the mesh continues. The surgical cut is not permitted.

Sometimes the thread is wrapped loosely while at other times it is pulled tight, perhaps too tight. Interesting patterns of coloured thread and synthetic fibre begin to emerge. The girth of the meshwork is transformed with every turn, while trails from the end of a spool hang loosely in suspension. At other times the different coloured threads blend together, the beginning of a new colour overlapping where another had previously been.

As the process continues to unfold different techniques emerge, each with their own unique outcomes: thicknesses begin to grow; strategies to anchor a thread are developed; tensors attempt to leap across the chasms separating the various mesh segments. The architectural platform around which the threads are bound modulates its shape in reply. The relational tempo is slowed down dramatically, gesture becomes more pronounced. Consider this intuitive process to have been shibari.

Flip

The artist has the sense that the first piece remains incomplete. A long piece of brilliant ruby thread hangs from the second. Part of this excess is cut off with a pair of scissors and snipped into smaller segments, which are then tied into tiny tourniquets just above those cuts on the first mesh that remain untreated: brilliant ruby red bows complete the first sculpture. The severed thread on the second sculpture is not cauterized, meanwhile, its trauma remaining open-ended instead.

Tango

"Tango is an improvised movement — at its best and most challenging, a politics of touch — carrying within its sensory mechanisms the potential instantiation of a politics that might be called a politics of friendship. Tango is a challenge to fraternization as the maxim for democracy even while it is the dream of a nationally unified identity. Tango is all of these contradictory movements of desire."
(Erin Manning, Politics of Touch, p.28)

We ought to recognize the tango (like the panopticon) as an abstract diagram or general architecture of embodied micropolitics that may, with the necessary modifications, be applied to different forms of coming-together or community. Here, body becomes bodies, the tango's lightness as diagram matched only by the heaviness of the flesh in which it finds embodied form.
(sportsBabel, July 2009)

Courtesy of Adidas

"I move to move with you to move with them to move you moving me."
(Manning, Relationscapes, p.25)

If, as Virno suggests, the figure of the virtuous public speaker is central to the emergence of the multitude, then we must also ask about the virtuosity of the public listener (a form of communication in its own right). This is why Manning's abstract diagram of the tango is so important: it accounts for both speaking and listening bodies in relation.
(sportsBabel, May 2010)

"Touch errs. Being in relation is about the experience of erring, which is at the heart of any desire to reach toward. It would be fallacious to argue that the body is always constant in its directionality. A politics of touch must be errant."
(Manning, Politics of Touch, p.70)

On Massumi's Logic of Relation: Players

In the last section of our analysis on Brian Massumi's logic of relation he asks us to consider the ball as a part-subject that catalyzes the vast field of potential that is the soccer pitch. It is the ball that reconfigures the field of potential while movement plays out or unfolds, since the players continuously move in response to its displacements. Susken Rosenthal's pencil drawings are interesting in that they make the autonomous agency of the ball explicit by tracing its movements around the pitch during the course of a soccer match. One notices the relatively straight lines that collectively express the displacements of the ball, but also the quite angular vertices showing where the ball changed direction with a well-placed kick.

Courtesy of Susken Rosenthal

susken rosenthal
germany vs. romania
from the complete series "em 1984"
n.8 of 17 pencil drawings
1984

As Deleuze and Guattari suggest, we must put the tracing back onto a map: Rosenthal helps us imagine, in other words, precisely how the vectoral movement of each linear segment reconstitutes the entire field of potential by catalyzing the rearrangement of the twenty-two other athletes on the pitch as ball and player come together in relation to change once again. But Rosenthal's sketches take the perspective of the remote gaze: where is the affective body to be found? One presumes down at the surface of play, though it is not clear from Massumi's analysis:

If the ball is a part-subject, each player is its part-object. The ball does not address the player as a whole. It addresses the player's eyes, ears, and touch through separate sensory channels. These separate sensory impressions are synthesized not into a subjective whole but into a state of intensive readiness for reflex response: they are synthesized into an actionability. The response is expressed through a particular body part — in the case of soccer, the foot. The ball addresses the player in a limited way, as a specific kind of actionability flowing through the player's body and following very particular channels. The kick is indeed an expression, but not of the player. It is an "ex-pression" of the ball, in the etymological sense, since the ball's catalysis "draws out" the kick from the player's body and defines its expressive effect on the globality of the game. The player's body is a node of expression, not a subject of the play but a material channel for the catalysis of an event affecting the global state of the game. While the ball is a catalyzer and the goals are inducers, the node of expression is a transducer: a channel for the transformation of a local physical movement into another energetic mode, that of potential energy. Through the kick, human physicality transduces into the insubstantiality of an event, releasing a potential that reorganizes the entire field of potential movement (Parables for the Virtual, p.73).

The separate sensory impressions an athlete perceives are not synthesized into a subjective whole, true, yet Massumi seems willing to suggest just such a reductive approach for the actionable body from which these sensations are produced in the first place. At best for him, a player's response "is expressed through a particular body part," and at worst the player becomes an intensive "node of expression" or point that moves about the pitch, perhaps no better than what we might find in Rosenthal's drawings or in 3D visualization and match analysis systems such as TRACAB (with its military genealogy).

Courtesy of Paul Pfeiffer

paul pfeiffer
four horsemen of the apocalypse (6)
2001
digital duraflex print

Expression cannot be considered simply the point of contact a player makes with the ball, a point that Paul Pfeiffer's image from the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse series helps make explicit. By digitally removing the ball and other players from an archival photo, we see that expression is not simply in the hand that may or may not defensively reject the ball from finding the goal. It is also in the line that runs from left wrist down through the armpit and to the left waist. It is in the left leg lifted slightly higher to compensate in balance for the weight that has shifted to the right side. It is in the absolute fullest possible extension of a body whose everyday being-in-the-world is normally folded in some way (by sitting in a chair, driving a car, operating a machine, or slouching in gait). In short, expression is to be found in the entire range of contours seen from the body that collectively make contact with the ball.

(As an aside, this bodily expression need not "fulfill" a biomechanical function for it to modify the field of potential. When Michael Jordan's tongue would involuntarily hang lolling from his mouth during a foray to the basket, one knew some bad-ass shit was in the process of unfolding.)

It is the ball that draws out an expression from the performing body, perhaps, but does the performing body not also draw out an expression from the ball? Or can we at least suggest that the virtuosity of the player's expression remains incomplete if the ball does not in some way fulfill the expression initiated?

Returning to soccer, consider the infamous "scorpion kick" performed by Colombian goaltender René Higuita in an international friendly match against England. A shot is arched towards the goal, which Higuita sends away by falling forward, arching his back, and kicking his legs over his head as if describing a scorpion's tail. Kalle Jonasson describes this in a trajectory of becoming-minor or deterritorialization, but can we not be more precise with Deleuze and Guattari's concepts and refer to this as a becoming-animal? And not simply because of mimicry — after all, no scorpion jumps in the air to sting its prey — but because of the deterritorialized body codes of the soccer goaltender to which Jonasson refers.

Courtesy of Google

The goaltender is the only one who is actually allowed to use his hands during the game, and yet Higuita chooses to clear the ball with his feet — in other words, to opt for contact rather than grip. And we are not describing a straightforward kick, either, but rather a blind kick in which the legs arch backward over the head to redirect the ball with the heels. This entire gesture begins with the deterritorialization of the game rules and generally accepted codes of conduct, only becoming scorpion through the entire body at the moment of contact with the ball.

The gestural contours of the body are so striking, however, precisely because of the expression they collectively draw from the ball: a perfectly arcing volley extending the sting of the tail out past the penalty area. Higuita's becoming-scorpion is only completed with the expression of the ball. If the ball's expression had been any different, if it had glanced off the side of Higuita's foot and trickled to the corner or, heaven forbid, gone backwards into the net for an own goal — anything but the perfectly symmetrical arcing volley — then the scorpion gesture would have remained incomplete and looked foolish in the world of men.

But because the ball's expression was so virtuous in its own right, because its flight was so true, we can suggest that this "minor literature" of the gestural language was that of a becoming-animal. And with this gesture comes a small moment of rupture in which the other part-object players on the field split their attention, pausing ever-so-imperceptibly to bear witness to this unusual act of creation before tracking the displacement of the ball once again.

The ball's part-subjectivity seems to exist as a valence that fluctuates given the relative distance from any particular player at any moment in time during the game. As that distance closes, subjectivity momentarily flips to the player in question before the ball is redirected and its agency restored. There is a difference between the two, however: the poiesis of the athlete lies in the intellect of the gesture and its expression through the entire body, while that of the ball is purely a servomechanistic expression of work or produced force and a semiosis of sponsored product design.

Black Star

Courtesy of Wikipedia

It is an odd relationality that constitutes this place we call time. I am always learning something.

Did you know that Telstar was the first satellite to relay a live transatlantic television feed? Did you know that Adidas created the official match balls of the 1970 FIFA World Cup, also named Telstar? Did you know that the black and white panels of the soccer ball were designed such that the ball would be more visible on black-and-white television? Did you know that the Telstar ball is designed in the shape of a truncated icosahedron, topologically transformed by the addition of air? Did you know that the truncated icosahedron also provided the lens configuration used for focusing the explosive shock waves from the detonator of the Fat Man atomic bomb? Did you know that Coleco introduced a videogame console designed to be connected to a black-and-white television, also named Telstar? Did you know that the Coleco Telstar used the AY-3-8500 chip manufactured by General Instrument, which dedicated pin number 21 for its soccer game?

the troubled words of a troubled mind
i try to understand what is eating you

i try to stay awake but it's 58 hours
since that i last slept with you
what are we coming to?
i just don't know anymore

blame it on the black star
blame it on the falling sky
blame it on the satellite that beams me home

(radiohead, "black star")

I didn't know either. It is an odd relationality that constitutes this place we call time.

On Massumi's Logic of Relation: Ball

Courtesy of Laurent Perbos

laurent perbos
le plus long ballon du monde
2003

We might consider sports to be gestural languages, each with rules of grammar, forms of poetry, and the like. But if that is the case then certainly the sporting technology or implement unique to each sport constitutes an important component of said language. With that in mind we continue our consideration of Massumi's logic of relation with an investigation of the ball proper.

If the goalposts, ground, and presence of human bodies on the field induce the play, the ball catalyzes it. The ball is the focus of every player and the object of every gesture. Superficially, when a player kicks the ball, the player is the subject of the movement, and the ball is the object. But if by subject we mean the point of unfolding of a tendential movement, then it is clear that the player is not the subject of the play. The ball is. The tendential movements in play are collective, they are team movements, and their point of application is the ball. The ball arrays the teams around itself. Where and how it bounces differentially potentializes and depotentializes the entire field, intensifying and deintensifying the exertions of the players and the movements of the team. The ball is the subject of the play. To be more precise, the subject of the play is the displacements of the ball and the continual modifications of the field of potential those displacements effect. The ball, as a thing, is the object-marker of the subject: its sign. Like the goal and the ground, the ball as a substantial term doubles the subject of the play, which itself is invisible and nonsubstantial, the catalysis-point of a force-field, a charge-point of potential (p.73, emphasis in original).

Put differently, the subject of the play is relation itself. This understanding of the nonsubstantial displacements of the object-marker and their continual modifications of the field of potential they effect is quite important, in my opinion, if we are to consider sport in this sense as a generative force. But is it consistent from one gestural language to the next? Though they are both open-ended, flowing sports contested on a rectangular field of play, the ball moves quite differently in a soccer match than it does in a basketball game. The primary difference may be located at the interface between player and technology, precisely in those ways gesture meets the object-marker that is the ball.

Courtesy of Spalding

If we are to understand the subject of the play as relation itself, and we are further to grant the ball status as an autonomous actor in the field of potential, then it follows that we might inquire after the tactile quality of the relation between player and ball (and the possible subjectivities it may contribute to producing later in time). "From one singular to another, there is contiguity but not continuity," Jean-Luc Nancy suggests. "There is proximity, but only to the extent that extreme closeness emphasizes the distancing it opens up. All of being is in touch with all of being, but the law of touching is separation; moreover, it is the heterogeneity of surfaces that touch each other" (Being Singular Plural, p.5). Touching, heterogeneity: the erotics of otherness unfolding on the sporting field of potential.

It is not surprising, then, that great importance is given to the sense of touch between player and ball. When soccer players complain about the ball-as-object, they are usually upset about its weight or degree of firmness insofar as these variables concern flight — that is, they are concerned about the ball as a problem of ballistics. When basketball players complain, on the other hand, they are usually concerned with texture — the tactile quality one perceives as finger tips and pads contour the surface of the ball. In rare cases this surface texture may be too rough (as with a brand new ball), but is far more often too worn-in and smooth: ideally, a basketball should be broken-in just so, for the player with the ball wants to optimize grip, or the balance between a melding of surfaces and their friction.

Since the ball is nothing without the continuum of potential it doubles, since its effect is dependent on the physical presence of a multiplicity of other bodies and objects of various kinds; since the parameters of its actions are regulated by the application of rules, for all these reasons the catalytic object-sign may be called a part-subject. The part-subject catalyzes the play as a whole but is not itself a whole. It attracts and arrays the players, defining their effective role in the game and defining the overall state of the game, at any given moment, by the potential movement of the players with respect to it. The ball moves the players. The player is the object of the ball. True, the player kicks the ball. But the ball must be considered in some way an autonomous actor because the global game-effects its displacements produce can be produced by no other game element. When the ball moves, the whole game moves with it. Its displacement is more than a local movement: it is a global event (p.73, emphasis in original).

In soccer one finds that the ball spends most of its time in between the various players and goals on the field of competition — that is, in the process of becoming the various displacements which give Massumi's analysis its brilliant quality. With basketball, however, the story is different in a subtle but important way. Precisely because one is allowed to hold the ball or dribble with one's hands — in other words, to increase grip such that one has greater control over the displacements of the ball — we find with greater frequency a merging of the part-subject and part-object positions, or perhaps even their reversal.

One defending the player dribbling the basketball is indeed advised to completely ignore the ball and instead focus on the movement of the offensive player's trunk anatomy (ie. belly button). No matter what tricks and feints the dribbler may effect with the ball at the extremities of expressive potential (ie. head, shoulders, hands), it remains in orbit around the nucleus that is the core of the body. For a brief moment during the course of unfolding play, at least for this particular defender, the subject of play is no longer the ball but rather the individual who "possesses" the ball in a molecular (or micropolitical) relation. This is not to reject Massumi's thesis, but to qualify how the particular status of the ball as an autonomous actor varies slightly in the translation to basketball.

Turning to offense, it is also accepted basketball orthodoxy that it is far easier to score when the ball keeps moving between offensive players, particularly from side to side, as it forces the defense to continually shift in reaction. Breakdowns potentially open in the relational patterns the defensive team uses to guard its goal, resulting in opportunities to get an open shot, layup or dunk. Ultimately, however, it is the individual player who must put the ball in the basket. The subject position must be assumed. And when one scores often, the tactile relation between player and ball is overcoded to produce the subjectivity of the star, which infolds back into the field of potential to recondition further displacements.

At what moment does grip become grasp? When does the meshwork of relation flip to individuation and subjectivity? It appears to be when the movement-energy of the basketball-subject slows down to create a particular and temporary stasis in the play of emergence.

Diss

the gestural aspect of the interface is important: cursive writing has as much in common with painting or dance and print writing has as much in common with engraving as the two have in common with each other, insofar as we are understanding stylus being laid to notebook.

Diss

"minor authors are foreigners in their own tongue. if they are bastards, if they experience themselves as bastards, it is due not to a mixing or intermingling of languages but rather to a subtraction and variation of their own language by stretching tensors through it" (d+g, atp, p.105).

the dancers, all of whom were young, fit, lean, and flexible, moved in a way that evoked thoughts of stelarc and orlan birthing a bastard litter of lovechildren in a surgical clinic managed by trent reznor. (november 2005)