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 to complement the technical elements of the fibre's production. Since each is made of the same "stuff" — that is, twine and string — this ambivalence becomes even more apparent when the works are taken together in assemblage, including also her earlier Wool Boxes and her more recent Falling, Skin Series, and Cancer, Crack and Chinese Shoes, the latter a collaborative effort.

Curiously, this proposition makes more sense in resonance with a recent quote by Garrick Barr, the 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. Noise in the signal system, yes? No problem, we are rapidly getting used to that — though one supposes some noises are heard more loudly than others.

In this case, however, the proverbial Freudian 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 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 relationality 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.

(from the forthcoming essay "relational fibres and optics," to appear in a catalogue by artist amber scoon)

One and Many Basketball Players

In our efforts to articulate the emergence of a sporting multitude, once again we turn to the work of Paolo Virno and a short piece titled "One and Many," in which he attempts to highlight differences between the "people" and the "multitude" as they relate to processes of individuation.

The One toward which the people gravitates is the State, the sovereign, the general will; the One that is behind the multitude, on the contrary, consists of language, of the intellect as a public or interpsychic resource and of the generic faculties of the species. If the multitude shuns statist unity it is only because it is related to a very different One, that is preliminary rather than conclusive. This relationship should be interrogated. An important contribution is offered by Gilbert Simondon, a philosopher very dear to Gilles Deleuze, little known outside of France until now. His reflections turn upon the processes of individuation. Individuation, i.e. the passage from the generic psychosomatic endowment of the human animal to the configuration of an irrepeatible singularity, is perhaps the category that, more than any other, is inherent in the multitude. At a closer glance, the category of the people applies to a myriad of non-individuated individuals, understood as simple substances or solipsistic atoms.

Does a networked meta-event such as Global Village Basketball reproduce the "unity/universality procured by the statist apparatus," albeit in the meshwork form characteristic of the emerging sporting Empire? It might seem that way if we simply refer to individuation as a process at the level of the human animal. But no (hu)man is an island: those individuated animals will eventually assemble in some fashion for survival, work, play or love.

The question becomes how the individuation of the individual is respected within the temporary sporting community of Global Village Basketball, as well as how the community itself becomes individuated at its own level of assemblage relative to other communities.

With regard to the former, this networked meta-event attempts to remove certain elements that contribute to what is actually the deindividuation of the human animal within sporting communities. First, the elimination of team uniforms. While it is true that GVB features the binary opposition of a Red team versus a Blue team, the actual identification of these teams by each local node in the networked game is not subject to an overall homogenized uniformity of the singular skin. Players may choose to wear some element of red or blue, or dispense with colours altogether and simply declare one side to be playing as Red and one as Blue. That a player may in fact play for both sides during the course of the pickup session makes such flexibility even more important.

In eliminating uniforms we also eliminate uniform numbers, those signifiers that identify and subsume the individual to the athletic collective of the team, a process unique neither to socialist or capitalist endeavours. Uniform numbers also index the individual to the administrative apparatus, to the table or the ledger or the boxscore or the scoresheet or the database. Breaking this indexical link either forces the administrator to know the identity of each individual present at the game, or else frustrates the alphanumeric archive altogether as a technique of individuation.

As such, we further eliminate the potential for the database to come into being and contribute to an econometrics of sporting production that improves the output of scored baskets. And when we further remove the "expert" authority of coaches and the police+judiciary system of referees, we free the athletic bodies in motion from a particular mandate for productivity. Put differently, we establish that pickup basketball is not a degraded form of the league and tournament basketball that yields to the hierarchies of world championships, but rather that it is the same sport in differential political form.

This is why it is so important for us to understand basketball in its linguistic sense. By placing the emphasis on baskets scored, on statistics and the other rationalizations of the spatiotemporal parameters for this sporting space, the focus remains on the capitalist accumulation of produced output. By instead removing much of those political constraints and instead focusing on the affect of the basketball bodies unfolding athletic poiesis from the foldings of potential in the realm of the virtual, we retrieve an emphasis on the virtuosity of this sporting labour from which capitalist relations are derived, but also from which the multitude comes into being.

Gait, Surveillance and Spectacle

From an administrative perspective a person's gait is a marker of difference. The dizzying permutations and combinations of myriad factors constitute the code of our individual gait: height, weight, age, gender, centre of gravity, periodicity of stride length, number of legs, number of arms, material composition of prosthetic limb, indications for arthritis or other joint disease, prior accidents, access to health care, symmetry of body, footwear, style, cultural norms, curvature of spine, strength of core stabilizer muscles, and many more that could be added to this list. This code allows for surveillance to move beyond the strictly optic and enter the realm of the haptic, in which the walking body is sensually contoured by the eye towards identifying each individual subject by their gait.

If we suggest that surveillance and spectacle are like a moebius strip of control in the production and consumption of sport, then one wonders how gait-based surveillance techniques might be integrated into the sporting spectacle. To a certain degree, an understanding of the individualizing aspects of gait has already been integrated into sports videogames via motion capture, which allows sports videogame companies to create player constructs that "move" like their real-life celebrity doppelgangers.

But one suspects it likely that gait-based identification would also be integrated into the econometric analyses provided by ProZone and their ilk. As players come together on the pitch, there must some error produced by the apparatus in attempting to identify individual athletes (Foucault notes the political and economic problems inherent in the mass or swarm). Periodic gait analysis would offer a sort of six sigma error reduction process to the econometric apparatus.

constancy, relationality, opportunity

The professional sport industry — particularly those leagues that comprise the upper echelon of the sports-media capitalist hierarchy — presents a paradox when viewed relative to the flows of capital in other sectors of the global economy. In other industries that require large investments in fixed capital, such as automobile production, plants have increasingly (and rapidly) relocated to countries and cultures in which the costs of variable capital are lower: all that is solid melts into thin air, only to condense and solidify once again in the global south.

In sport, however, the primary product being manufactured is the live sporting spectacle, with its affective experience of the crowd-as-number situated within the multisensuality of the stadium environment proper. It is easy to lose sight of the live event's primacy given the intensity with which the sports industry has initiated joint production processes to manufacture immaterial outputs further downstream, such as television broadcasts or fantasy sport data streams. But it is the live event that creates the paradox for sporting capital mentioned above: the plant of professional sports production — the stadium in its myriad forms — cannot simply relocate to where the costs of variable capital are the lowest precisely because the site of production is simultaneously the site of consumption for a live event, an inseparability that characterizes few other industrial sectors.

Yankee Stadium

While capital desires unregulated flow and the immaterial outputs of sportocratic production also have their own flows and rhythms, at a less complex level of assembly sports events flow to varying degrees as well. Baseball, for example, is a sport that does not flow to a high degree: it is a series of discrete actions — pitch, hit, throw, out or run produced — that are linked together in a form of mutual agreement between all those present. In other words, the structural elements of the game in the sense of codified rules (whether verbally agreed upon or highly codified in written form) facilitate what we might term a weak flow that emerges from the closed nature of the sport. Despite the weak flow that is produced, the discrete elements of the game provide plenty of signifying breaks that may be recorded as metadata about the live event action, which forms the scorecards, boxscores and other archives of the game.

Basketball, on the other hand, is a far more open-ended, flowing sport. Rather than a loosely connected series of discrete events, the action in a basketball game generally oscillates back and forth along the court surface in a fairly consistent rhythmical fashion. Roughly speaking, it is the peaks and valleys of the oscillation curve as it unfolds in linear time that become the events that are marked for the archive — shot attempted, basket made, steal or turnover. Put differently, it forms a strong flow from which signifying breaks have been extracted, in an inversion of the relationship described with baseball.

This means that an event such as a scored basket has as its primary relationality that of the flow. In a pickup game of basketball that relationality is complemented by the game score being passed from one player to another by word of mouth. As we move to more organized, league forms of basketball, the internal coherence or relationality of the flow is supplemented by an external scoring, legitimating and archiving apparatus (referees, official scorer and timekeeper, standardized records). It is this supplementary dimension that forms the basis of the downstream joint production processes mentioned earlier.

As the archival information is "liberated" from the productive energies of the athletes on the field of play, it then enters a constellation of differential signification and relationality completely detached from the flow of that particular game. The basket becomes an entry in a database that may form relationships with an overall "official" score, with other baskets by the same player, with a graphic overlay on a television broadcast, or with a consumer's fantasy league ranking. In baseball, with its weak flow of manufactured relationality, this liberation is not a particularly violent process, but in open-ended sports of strong flow like basketball the violence is far more pronounced.

Whether open or closed, the violence of the immaterial and its disruption of flux is most pronounced in the upper echelons of the sports hierarchy. This is due to the immense salaries that professional athletes are capable of earning — particularly relative to workers in other industrial sectors — as professional sport demands a highly specialist form of labour. Furthermore, the global competition for this talent has heightened dramatically over the past several decades as the number of consumer markets capable of sustaining a domestic professional league has expanded and the financial stakes involved in fielding a successful franchise have increased. Since the sporting capitalist is prevented from relocating the sporting plant to wherever variable capital is the cheapest, one must instead seek world-class specialist labour more cheaply from around the globe and bring it to the site of the stadium. We need only consider the examples of the English Premier League importing association football players from Africa, Major League Baseball importing athletic labour from Japan, or the Russian professional basketball league importing female players from the United States to realize how fully the migration of athletes permeates across sports, cultures, genders and economic vectors.

Given the fixed seating capacity of a stadium and the relative price elasticity of demand for sports tickets, the revenues required to cover rising salary expenses must come from elsewhere. One way of doing this is to increase the number of production runs at the plant, or in this case, to play more games. While there are usually more free dates at the stadium that could be used for live event manufacture, we cannot truly dissociate the athletes themselves from our understanding of plant in the sports industry.

As Michael Hardt has suggested, there is a dialectic between labourer and capitalist in which collective resistance by the former eventually leads to automation efforts by the latter. But professional sport resists such explicit forms of automation as robotic production since it is the athlete him/herself that is the object of fascination and desire. Instead, the professional athlete becomes a hybrid between labour and capital, with standardized techniques of discipline, expensive surgeries and other medical modalities such as oxygen chambers, as well as databased methods of probability and simulation helping to intensify production. Nonetheless, there remains a certain point after which the organic body provides diminishing returns in terms of the number of production runs (played games) completed by the firm.

Instead, we find that the sporting capitalist is forced to increase immaterial joint production efforts to cover these rising salary costs. While this doesn't explain the "origin" of immaterial output in the sports industry, it does provide us one way of understanding the intensity with which sign-value must be extracted from the immaterial. Put another way, the sporting capitalist requires a growing intellectual property (data-object) turnover ratio in order to maintain the same level of surplus-value earned over time. But it also suggests that the relationality of the data-object as it is violently detached from the site of sporting poiesis and entered into other sign systems must be targeted in any praxis by the sporting multitude, insofar as it simultaneously targets the alienation experienced by the consumer-worker, rather than solely that of the producer-worker.

Sport in the Wires: Abstraction, Integration, Efficiency

Animation - Courtesy of Prozone

Sport in the Wires: Abstraction, Integration, Efficiency

(submitted to "denoting danger, connoting freedom: everyday life in the [post]global network," an edited collection in the digital formations series at peter lang publishing)

Only a short time after the inaugural communiqué of the Morse telegraph between Washington and Baltimore in 1844, baseball scores were being relayed throughout the burgeoning network of cables around the nation. In turn, the code that was used to relay baseball information was used to power large electromagnetic scoreboards in public town squares, gathering large crowds for a nearly real-time experience of a remote sporting event and setting in motion what has become a multi-billion dollar global sports-media industry. But behind the scenes of the burgeoning sports spectacle, the numerical data that was driving the telegraph communication was simultaneously being used to rationalize performance on the field of play, with early efforts towards this end involving the application of scientific management principles towards improving the output of run production.

An amateur statistician named Bill James recognized that the existing metrics for baseball did not accurately measure true production value and he began to develop new metrics of his own, which he self-published to a growing network of like-minded baseball statistics enthusiasts. But it wasn't until years later that Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane read James' work and realized its potential to discover undervalued talent in the highly competitive professional baseball labour market. While Beane's competitors in Major League Baseball were eventually forced to adopt similar analyses within their own organizations, enterprising managers in other sports also began to investigate with econometric techniques to achieve similar competitive advantage. The difference, however, is that these other sports are generally smoother in spatial orientation (cf. Deleuze and Guattari) and more open-ended in task orientation than baseball. To compensate for these differences, imaging technologies have been added to the efforts to rationalize performance.

The most notable example of this new form of performance analysis may be found in soccer, a sport with few goals scored, few native statistics and few striations of the playing surface. In response to the unique demands of this sport — the most popular and lucrative on a global scale — a system called ProZone provides analytics that measure productivity during a match using eight cameras that surround the stadium to capture all player movement from a variety of angles. These multiple feeds are processed by a proprietary software package that triangulates and tracks each athlete as a unique data-object on the pitch, all without the assistance of any sort of motion capture marker on the athlete's body. Once tracked, managers may analyze variables such as work output and pass efficiency. Given the genealogy of econometric analysis described earlier, the remainder of the chapter examines the implications of the ProZone system within the local network of the stadium, the broader networks of sporting spectacle, and how its abstract diagram implicates cognate areas of production and security outside of sport. Theoretical contributions from Baudrillard, Virilio, Deleuze and Guattari, Massumi, Crandall, Critical Art Ensemble and others will inform this chapter.

Analysis - Courtesy of Prozone

Vectors

Subway Baseball

Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media:

"Just where to begin to examine the transformation of American attitudes since TV is a most arbitrary affair, as can be seen in a change so great as the abrupt decline of baseball. The removal of the Brooklyn Dodgers to Los Angeles was a portent in itself. Baseball moved West in an attempt to retain an audience after TV struck. The characteristic mode of the baseball game is that it features one-thing-at-a-time. It is a lineal, expansive game which, like golf, is perfectly adapted to the outlook of an individualist and inner-directed society. Timing and waiting are of the essence, with the entire field in suspense waiting upon the performance of a single player. By contrast, football, basketball, and ice hockey are games in which many events occur simultaneously, with the entire team involved at the same time. With the advent of TV, such isolation of the individual performance as occurs in baseball became unacceptable. Interest in baseball declined, and its stars, quite as much as movie stars, found that fame had some very cramping dimensions. Baseball had been, like the movies, a hot medium featuring individual virtuosity and stellar performers. The real ball fan is a store of statistical information about previous explosions of batters and pitchers in numerous games. Nothing could indicate more clearly the peculiar satisfaction provided by a game that belonged to the industrial metropolis of ceaselessly exploding populations, stocks and bonds, and production and sales records. Baseball belonged to the age of the first onset of the hot press and the movie medium. It will always remain a symbol of the era of the hot mommas, jazz babies, of sheiks and shebas, of vamps and gold-diggers and the fast buck. Baseball, in a word, is a hot game that got cooled off in the new TV climate, as did most of the hot politicians and hot issues of the earlier decade" (p. 284).

(Thanks for the postcard Jean-Christophe!)