When is Finitude?

Multipurpose Gym

(how to make love while dancing on a mondrian)


"global village basketball is the line of flight. it ruptures the existing hierarchy by networking together the molecular pickup games that exist around the world into one meta-game. it is a collective, yet distributed, net performance of improvised pickup basketball located on a smooth patchwork of hardwood, asphault, terrazzo, concrete and dirt; the backboard is syncretic plexiglass, aluminum and wood; the rims iron, milk crate and peach basket; the mesh nylon and chain-link. the virtual setting of the meta-game becomes the means of deterritorializing the basketball court space" (june 2009).


[Aside] The third Global Village Basketball game took place on June 8, 2011. A few baskets were scored, robustly. Fun was had, muscles were strained. Art was created — a performance piece of sorts.


Like the aching/aging muscles themselves, however, the Global Village Basketball machine is also showing its wear. It is most certainly fatigued.

The "me" that is the "I" that is the "we" that signs ets name to this recurrent event, this flexible set of relations — this machine — is most responsible. I have not sufficiently spoken or performed the machine into existence.

The performativity of the event proper is not in its spoken character, though, but rather in its gesture — its movement — co-emergent with teammates and opponents alike. The "me" that is the "I" that is the "we" that signs ets name to this recurrent event have gestured the machine into existence in declining number.

Do we speak of a machine that is at its physically largest size at natality (1182-1121) — one that perpetually shrinks until it dies, a sort of Benjamin Button of athletic poiesis and process philosophy? Or do we speak of a machine that grows, that changes, that coagulates or fragments off and becomes something elsewhere and when, that surfs the thin line between freedom and fascism — indeed, by literally speaking its growth?

Et is fatigued. Et is fatigued by the very weight of ets relational basketball meshes. But this weight — the weight of communication — is also a weight we enjoy bearing from time to time — in all its aesthetic, political, and ethical senses. It is a tactile burden we willingly choose to engage (and even submit to) in fulfilling our desiring-common of and through relation.

When does one put the effort — the work — into communicating this relation and when does one remain quiet? When does speaking fatigue the relation? When is gesture sufficient? When is flux insufficient?

Does the "me" that is the "I" that is the "we" that signs ets name to this recurrent event still have the right to kill the machine?

Courtesy of Ryan King

When is finitude?

Virilio might say halfway, but et is not so sure.


modes, nodes, electrodes

clone 1: and i was all, like, the *basketball players* were, you know, forgetting and everything. but if you put them together they could kinda remember, or something like that.

clone 1: (snaps gum)

clone 2: LOL

clone 2: true

clone 1: 8-)

* * *

narrator: only then did i learn that brian massumi had in fact already written quite beautiful philosophy addressing this very question. it's called "the bleed: where body meets image".

The Imagined Architecture of Homo Transludens

The Imagined Architecture of Homo Transludens: Networked Sport and Affective Politics

(an excerpt, submitted by sean smith to the social sciences and humanities research council of canada post-doctoral fellowship program for a proposed residency at concordia university's sense lab)

Venice Biennale Basketball

Play is a fundamental component of human cultures, one that has infused other structural forms of the society of Homo Ludens, such as art, philosophy and law (cf. Huizinga). Inherent in play to greater or lesser degrees are sets of rules that channel the conditions of possibility for the ludic subject, whether towards a particular goal or in freer forms of expression. But in the contemporary digital age, these rules of play often become more implicitly rules of a computer system, algorithmically and architecturally so. Julian Kücklich suggests that cheating — with Homo Deludens as a strategic figure — is one way to understand such systems, to learn what constitutes their conditions of possibility and opportunities for agency.

Located in the liminal space between these two strategic figures, Homo Transludens is proposed in this program of post-doctoral research as one who navigates the threshold in sport between rules and non-rules — not in such a way as to cheat against one's opponents but rather to find new opportunities for athletic expression at the ostensible boundaries of play. Brian Massumi refers to this threshold phenomenon of relational movement as the style that generates the evolution of a sport. Homo Transludens, then, may be considered the creative figure at play "who most effectively melds with the collectivity, toward its becoming" (PftV, p. 78, emphasis added).

In the context of the Global Village Basketball pilot project, Massumi's style referred not only to the creative expression of athletic bodies on the court, but to the design of the actual playing spaces themselves. While many of the meta-game molecules played indoors in "traditional" gymnasium locations, many others joined the game from municipal parks or playgrounds. One mother used toy baskets and chalk to sketch a scaled-down outline of a full court in her driveway on which local pre-school children could participate. Meanwhile, absent a ball to play with at the Venice Biennale art festival, two artists mimed on video the gestures of a one-on-one competition, using Alexei Kallima's Rain Theorem — a black light installation of a football stadium crowd cheering — as the visual backdrop for the performance.

Venice Biennale Basketball

This capacity to imagine local architectures helped mobilize a collective architecture of the imagination for networking together some of the molecular pickup games that existed around the world. The Global Village Basketball meta-game was an aggregated, yet distributed, net performance of improvised pickup basketball played upon on a smooth patchwork of architectural spaces. In this sense we may consider it to have existed as a line of flight from the privileged structures and spaces of state-organized basketball, temporarily allowing for new biopolitical subjectivities to emerge in a sporting context.

gesture, intellect, virtuosity?

Building upon the work of Varro and Aristotle, the central thesis of Giorgio Agamben's essay "Notes on Gesture" is that gesture — a means without an end — stands separate from production or poiesis (a means to an end) and action or praxis (an end without a means), and in the process opens a new dimension of the political. This is no trivial observation for Agamben: "means without end" serves as the title of the book in which the essay appears, both in its English translation and the original Italian ("mezzi senza fine"). Clearly this idea of the "being-in-language" that is gesture is somewhere near the crux of his political thought.

Nothing is more misleading for an understanding of gesture, therefore, than representing, on the one hand, a sphere of means as addressing a goal (for example, marching seen as a means of moving the body from point A to point B) and, on the other hand, a separate and superior sphere of gesture as a movement that has its end in itself (for example, dance seen as an aesthetic dimension). Finality without means is just as alienating as mediality that has meaning only with respect to an end. If dance is gesture, it is so, rather, because it is nothing more than the endurance and the exhibition of the media character of corporal movements. The gesture is the exhibition of a mediality: it is the process of making a means visible as such (p.58, emphasis in original).

It behooves us to consider Agamben's thesis in resonance with Paolo Virno's A Grammar of the Multitude. In the second day of the seminar that constitutes the basis of the book, Virno outlines a similar triad that informs his potential politics: labour, action and intellect.

Let us consider carefully what defines the activity of virtuosos, of performing artists. First of all, theirs is an activity which finds its own fulfillment (that is, its own purpose) in itself, without objectifying itself into an end product, without settling into a "finished product," or into an object which would survive the performance. Secondly, it is an activity which requires the presence of others, which exists only in the presence of an audience (p.52, emphasis in original).

The two analyses, which do not refer to each other in any way (Agamben's original appeared in 1996, while Virno's seminar took place in 2001), are in fact so remarkably similar that I feel a need to address the following questions in the context of Global Village Basketball and any project of sporting multitude:

  1. how does gesture relate to intellect?
  2. how does Virno's hybridization of labour and political action in the post-fordist age complicate Agamben's analysis?
  3. how do we locate virtuosity relative to the sphere of gesture?
  4. is Virno's language and virtuosity of the speaker actually commensurate with Agamben's pure mediality and being-in-language of gesture?
  5. can networked pickup basketball realize both Agamben's and Virno's politics insofar as the emergence of a sporting multitude is concerned?

(a work-in-process between elaine w. ho and sean smith towards "unlayering the relational: microaesthetics and micropolitics," a text for the mediamodes art and technology conference in new york)


In the age of the integrated spectacle (cf. Agamben), few of the static two-dimensional images that are presented to us in the course of everyday life — magazine ads, billboards, posters, direct mailings, and the like — are in fact truly depthless artefacts. Rather, they are the result of careful processes in which part-objects have been layered on top of one another, grouped together, and transformed in various ways before being flattened out to the final "static" image.

Generally speaking, these part-objects may be either textual elements or other image elements, that is, the fundamental building blocks of Flusser's line and surface thinking. The graphic design software that facilitates the creation of this final flattened image retains within the file all of the meta-information about each of these part-objects in terms of position, understood as the x-y coordinates of grid plane and the z-index of layer — in other words, the file contains the relations that existed between each part-object before flattening took place.

wii would like to play - we don't have tickets, courtesy of HomeShop

But a skilled and experienced designer doesn't need the original file to understand the relations that created the final image. Simply by assessing the visual outcome in the context of embodied memory, one is able to unlayer and reconstitute that which has been usurped of its depth in its rendering-spectacular.

The complexity of the spectacular apparatus increases as we move from the processed image into the realm of cinema and television and literally introduce motion to the process. Chion identifies new building blocks that are added to the image and text within the two-dimensional frame, most importantly the audio elements of speech and field sound captured during recording, and the music and sound effects added in post-production. To the moving image we also add the graphic overlay, a visual element that may be static or animated and which is visually distinct from the images that have been captured by the camera during filming. These overlays are increasingly connected to external (relational) databases in the specific example of television, as with statistics during a sports broadcast or with the latest quotes on a news channel stock market ticker.

Nonetheless, the experienced director or video editor may similarly be able to quickly apprehend after the fact the layers and corresponding relations that produced the final cinematic outcome. In doing so, we may already understand that the layer is not a two-dimensional phenomenon, as Chion's inclusion of audio and acoustic space illustrates.

Global Village Basketball 2009 - courtesy of marcef33

Now consider those works that find smooth passage through categorical barriers identified variously as interventions, conceptual pieces, participation-oriented performances or community-based art projects. Three such examples, different though interrelated, might include Global Village Basketball, HomeShop, and wii would like to play // we don't have tickets. While these works were "framed" with more or less well-defined spatiotemporal parameters, they are most definitely of the realm of the volumetric and hence introduce new complexities to the apparatus.

Of course, with such events there is no "file" to which we have recourse for determining the layers and relations between the part-subjects that comprised their contextual fabric. As Massumi points out, they are ontogenetic. But, as with the processed static and moving video images described earlier, is it possible to unlayer the volumetric interactions of the intervention after the fact? Can we assess the audiovisual outcomes in the context of embodied memory and perhaps in the process identify new building blocks for the becoming-social each work facilitated, such as gesture, tango, translation, risk and exchange?

(a work-in-process between elaine w. ho and sean smith towards "unlayering the relational: microaesthetics and micropolitics," a text for the mediamodes art and technology conference in new york)

Collective Forgetting

In a normal basketball game, score is a marker of difference. It provides a purportedly objective measure of which team was better able to meet the primary goal of the game, namely to score more baskets than one's opponent.

GVB Eq.1

As such, score has a subtractive aspect to it, in which the difference between the scores of the two teams, a and b, becomes a margin of victory c (and we must remember that in almost all North American team sports c cannot equal 0, for tie scores are anathema). In professional contexts this value c is then compared to Vegas point spreads to determine an even more "authentic" victor, one determined by the logic of the market.

The inaugural Global Village Basketball event treated score in a slightly different manner. While Red and Blue teams were indeed competing against one another on a local basis in six countries around the world, and as such followed the formula outlined above, score was also used as a means of linking the various games together into one meta-game. In this sense score became additive, with the goal to collectively score as many baskets together worldwide as possible.

GVB Eq.2

In other words, we may describe an aggregated score d that adds together the Red score and Blue score to show the collective production of those around the world who played in the game.

Of course, d isn't simply a singular Red score added to a singular Blue score, but rather the sum of all local game scores and their additive characteristics:

GVB Eq.3

But even this formula doesn't tell the whole story, for there is an error coefficient that exists at each local game event that accumulates across the network. As we know, this error exists even in the most carefully constructed apparatus of truth that is professional basketball. But it is far more pronounced in the pickup version of the game, when all participants are in the process of playing and there is no external governing authority responsible for the role of archon and the accorded hermeneutic right to interpret the archive, or scoresheet (cf. Derrida).

GVB Eq.4

Let us say, for example, that a game of pickup basketball is played in which the first team to seven baskets is declared the winner. The game begins, the action moves up and down the floor, always in flux, and baskets are scored. After a while one of the players shouts out the query: "Score?"

"4-2," someone responds.

"Oh no, it's only 3-2," counters an opponent.

A dispute arises, however banal, and play temporarily comes to a halt.

Everyone plays, everyone performs. In their running and passing and shooting and sweating everyone participates in a collective act of forgetting. What ensues in the absence of an external governing authority granted the "hermeneutic right" to maintain and interpret the archive is a local oral micro-history of the game. Rather than an archive, the memory of score becomes a distributed, communitarian process of orality and embodiment.


This is not as trivial as it seems. Once such a rupture in basketball-flux arises, there is no external referent from which the assembled athletes may regain their bearings. In practice, it might play out something like the following. The opponent says, "OK, who scored your 4 baskets then?" Since both sides agreed that at least 3 baskets had been scored, the group quickly identifies who had scored those.

But the fourth basket proves surprisingly elusive. Someone suggests that Brown scored the fourth on a slashing drive to the hoop. And here is where we find the greatest moment of contrast between the archive and the attempt to overcome collective forgetting. In the former instance, we have a remote locus of surveillant optics as with the Foucauldian disciplinary diagram, which gives us the official basketball scoresheet. In the latter, the perspective-as-memory is fragmented and scattered around the court, with each part-locus of the collective gaze turned toward the path or trajectory through which Brown allegedly passed to score the basket.

This is not simply an optic phenomenon. Each person who may have witnessed the basket taking place actually retrieves in an embodied sense one's memory of self located where they were at the moment of the drive and shot attempt, rhythmically relative to Brown and each of the other bodies on the court. The "visual" memory of the basket does not take place without this somatic relocation in memory. As Brian Massumi suggests, "Where we go to find ourselves when we are lost is where the senses fold into and out of each. We always find ourselves in this fold in experience" (PftV, p. 182, emphasis in original).

In this case, however, the fold is not an individual experience but one that is collective and relational. And it is not perfect, but fuzzy. If enough players on both teams are able to retrieve from this folding of sense-dimensions a memory of the basket, then the group agrees to count it towards the score — or, put differently, to treat it as a knowable object of truth.

And the game goes on.

* * *

GVB Eq.4

As a mathematical-linguistic construct, the last equation shown best describes the structural form of score as it is used in the Global Village Basketball game: what DeLanda describes as an intercalary element that condenses the gaseous particles of pickup sport into liquid form. But the epsilon that signifies error in the model should also at once signify embodiment. For the flesh as a way of knowing always contains a zone of error, negotiation and approximation. It is decidedly imperfect in a positivist sense yet often good enough to reach compromise or agreement, and for that very reason should be embraced in those nebulous arrangements we call community.