Volumetric Boundaries

baseball power

Baseball's anachronism is that it still favours power over speed (borne out as an optimization strategy in quantitative 'sabermetric' analysis); whereas basketball, football, hockey in particular — while once celebrating power in greater proportion — have all reversed the equation today to favour speed over power; meanwhile volleyball and tennis stand perhaps as the best examples in which the development of speed and power have maintained a relatively stable balance.

One imagines in baseball this is due to the relatively discrete separation of offensive and defensive bodies during play on a baseball field, which stands in stark contrast to the immediate intermingling of bodies that occurs in basketball, football, and hockey (after the brief formalist separation of bodies that indicates an address to one's opponent in advance of the agonistic event — ie. the jump ball, snap, or faceoff).

But don't volleyball and tennis have an even more discrete separation of bodies, given the net that separates both teams? True.

Baseball tilts the equation in favour of power because the ball is not required to stay in the park in order to score: the possibility of the home run encourages the balance of skill to tilt heavily in the direction of power.

volleyball power

Volleyball and tennis do not necessarily require the ball to stay in the court, either, so long as the ball hits the ground on the opponent's side before exiting the space of play. Not over a wall with no possibility for defensive intervention, as with baseball, but spiked to a floor with all of the defense waiting for your very stroke, power and speed required to score the point.

(This leads to the question of speed and power in cricket, for example, which also does not require the ball to stay in the park during play but permits batting in a 360-degree direction, as opposed to baseball's 90-degree home run; etcetcetc for other sports.)

Anamorphosis, Stereoreality and the Correct Gaze

On each of the baselines of the basketball court at the Air Canada Centre this season lies an oddly designed painted emblem. It is quite difficult to determine exactly what these emblems represent — that is, until they are seen from the perspective of the wide-angle camera lens on television. They appear to be lengthy three-dimensional sandwich boards, with the Raptors name emblazoned in red letters on a black background.


While the technique is new in North American professional sport, it has existed for years on football, cricket and rugby pitches around the world to expand a certain value proposition for corporate sponsors by rearranging the perceptual field of play. But the technique is even older than that: its proper name is perspectival anamorphosis, and its earliest usage dates back to paintings of the early Renaissance period.

Perspectival anamorphosis is a technique of producing a distorted projection, which requires the viewer to occupy a specific vantage point to reconstitute the image. With Hans Holbein's famous work The Ambassadors, for example, one must put one's eye at an acute angle to the bottom-left of the canvas, looking diagonally upward to reveal the skull that had been placed front and centre. According to the wikipedia entry, anamorphosis "made it possible to diffuse caricatures, erotic and scatologic scenes and scenes of sorcery for a confidential public" — sort of what we describe today as easter eggs, essentially, or hidden openings in the skin of a text.

Holbein - The Ambassadors

Hans Holbein the Younger
The Ambassadors
oil on oak (with anamorphic detail on right)

One can imagine these anamorphic paintings fostering techniques of looking, of searching for irregularities in the tapestry of pigment and texture, of approaching the flat plane from variable distances and angles, of spending time with the work — and perhaps locating a hidden sign, an inside joke, or a covert message that would open new, polyvocal understandings within the text at hand. A samizdat of whispers to disseminate this approximate set of Euclidean grid coordinates: x and y on the canvas, the z of focal distance, and a vectorial gaze to complete the message.

Approximate coordinates: this will get you close, figure the rest out yourself.

Those who are in the know and those who perceive matters at a more surface level.

Sporting Empire resuscitates perspectival anamorphosis in a different fashion, more or less subversive depending on one's relationship to capital. The primary difference lies in the addition of a television camera to the assemblage of visibility. Technology itself is not new for anamorphosis as process: mirrors have been used for centuries to create certain effects that would lift the distorted image off the flat plane of inscription. But now the mirrors have been swallowed whole by the camera apparatus, then partially digested to form bits of reflection that transmit the image far and wide. A televisual anamorphosis that admits the possibility for movement — but only by the camera.

There is no longer a samizdat of whispers suggesting the approximate location of the anamorphic image. The correct gaze is already calibrated to the wide-angle camera shot that forms the dominant perspective from which one watches a basketball game on television, Holbein's skull replaced by the corporate brand of tribal affiliation in a networked attention economy. Or, if we are discussing those football, cricket and rugby matches broadcast elsewhere in the world, replaced by the logo of a corporate sponsor.

Put differently, the easter eggs have been metaphorically scrambled so that a more crystal clear signal may be delivered to the consumers at home.

"Those absent from the stadium are always right," Virilio was fond of saying, and the anamorphic Raptors image along the baseline merely confirms this proposition for most in attendance, who must certainly be growing more aware of their role as privileged television extras. The image makes no visual sense otherwise for this majority, but then again its function is less to see the game than to feel its unfolding as part of the crowd.

Why the anamorphic figure of a sandwich board? Why not a simple rectangle? This purportedly volumetric figure does not create perspective, but rather kills perspective — or at least attempts a sort of Euclidean nesting proposition in which one three-dimensional space (the stadium) is translated within the parameters of another (the television and its screen). One could be forgiven for thinking that those at home aren't in on the secret, though, and we must pretend the stadium still offers the most "authentic" experience of the game.

Meanwhile, capital closes off those holey spaces consonant with a program of skin tectonics.



"many philosophies refer to sight; few to hearing; fewer still place their trust in the tactile, or olfactory. abstraction divides up the sentient body, eliminates taste, smell and touch, retains only sight and hearing, intuition and understanding. to abstract means to tear the body to pieces rather than merely leave it behind: analysis."

(michel serres, the five senses: a philosophy of mingled bodies, p.26)


"aye, boy, they be playing creckett . . . "

(down the rabbit) holey space

a breath of fresh air, redolent of vuvuzela blossoms

there was a public outdoor screening on a restaurant wall a few nights ago at the end of the street where i live: "bangladesh defeats england in historic cricket victory." it was not projected through the partition but rather reflected upon the building’s facade. closer, yet further away.

oh, i *do* remember our identity tourism in tucson. there were cast-iron sculptures of lisa nakamura's body on every building, just like antony gormley in london. "inverted post-colonialism," i think, was the vogue.

context is not only a spatiotemporal phenomenon, but a (matrixial) psychic phenomenon as well. context suggests an increasing tendency towards harmonized (and dare we say synchronized?) co-resonance. it seems to me that context itself constitutes the stasis of monotony and that the coming-into resonance of and through alterity is what creates the openness.

did you know that amsterdam is the steampunk version of second life? delanda said they created this shit back in the 1400s! and then at some point lewis carroll wrote a virus and messed up the code. the game still plays in my console, but the graphics are a little distorted, you know?

how does third place, the "runner up in the exceptional case," change the relation between numbers one and two ("the best winners")? the ontogenesis of the third is an alter-accomplishment in its own right, no? how do we understand the third in terms of multitude and the very being-in-language of which virno, agamben and nancy speak? how does the third come into resonance of and through alterity? is openness created?

children both shy and fearless; translation, mistranslation, smiling without voices; does it really matter? tonality, don't think in terms of romanization! a new iron curtain; public, private, third spaces; be a switch; but it wouldn't be a very honest emotion if you could turn it off like a switch.

or am i flailing?

crushed blossoms in a vase of water

Marginal Notes on Notes on Gesture

Motion capture. Captured motion.

It is no coincidence that in his essay "Notes on Gesture" Giorgio Agamben only provides the reader one concrete exemplar of what actually constitutes a gesture, and that is gait. Recall that Muybridge and Marey became godfathers of not only the art of cinema but also the science of biomechanics, the relation becoming more apparent over the course of the twentieth century insofar as both serve to capture motion. Or, more specifically, as they both serve to capture gesture: walking and gait have become as important to the processes of consumption as they have to those of production.

It is gait that provided the basis for some of Muybridge and Marey's early cinematic works, but is also the foundational human movement that has driven most innovations in biomechanical measurement during the past century, from stroboscopic photography to force plate analysis to high-speed videography. As Francesco Careri suggests, walking is the "first aesthetic act" of humans in that it assumes a "symbolic form" shaping our very being in the world and our relationships to landscape and architecture. Gait is integral to this symbolic form and thus integral to our built environment both real and virtual. While Careri argues convincingly that the built environment of humans emerges from nomadic walking peoples, eventually it comes to mark the character of the sedentary city in both material and immaterial fashion: the polis and the walking subject enter biunivocal relations of naming the other. Walking is not simply an aesthetic act, then, but a political one as well.

Courtesy of Gabriel Orozco

Gabriel Orozco
digitally-manipulated photographic print

And while Agamben devotes his attention to cinema for the remainder of the essay, perhaps we ought to follow the twin genealogies created by Muybridge and Marey to consider parallel developments in biomechanics as well. Extending an argument from Deleuze's book on cinema, Agamben suggests that "the element of cinema is gesture and not image." If Agamben and Deleuze are correct, then the reason gesture has been obscured in cinematic analysis appears to be simple, as it is literally a matter of appearances. Until recently, cinematic scenes were always shot from a single perspective at a time, from a single camera, and many of these single shots (perhaps from different cameras) were edited together to form a final filmic image — with the audience member, as Benjamin points out, assuming the position of the camera and the gaze of the director.

With this flattening of the perspectival gaze to the two-dimensional surface it appears that the image constitutes the foundational element of cinema, but this is due to the technical limitations of the input device rather than to any truth of the form itself — if we can consider "cinema" to be an assemblage of bodies and technologies that produces the final filmic image. Given such an input, one can never see all sides of a volume from a single point in Euclidean space — and gesture is volumetric.

What technical vision wants is to see the subject from all directions at once — in other words, to become omnidirectional or omnipresent (and here we can explain the "replacement" for an idea of God, in a technocratic sense of becoming-secular). Following Agamben and Deleuze, this is because technical vision wants to represent gesture rather than simple image.

The goal of omnidirectionality had been accomplished to some degree in biomechanics with motion capture technology, an apparatus that features multiple simultaneous camera angles synthesized together to identify the position of markers located on key anthropometric sites of the body. In doing so, it became possible to create volumetric models of gesture for the purposes of measurement, analysis and optimization.

But omnidirectionality has truly taken off with videogames, which took the practical fruits of biomechanic research and made them profitable for the industry of integrated spectacle. Financial gain may now accrue by capturing and expropriating the gestures of athletes and actors to create identity-constructs that are tried on like well-made Armani suits. While playing these games the user reduces one's own gestures to a programmed and nearly-pure electromagnetic impulse almost unrecognizable in comparison to those movements taking place on the screen.

Motion Capture Collage - Courtesy EA Sports

And since it is the integrated spectacle we are describing it is no surprise that innovations in the videogame medium were fedbackforward into cinema, as with the bullet time effects in The Matrix. It is perhaps most impressive, then, that Deleuze recognized cinema's gestural character without ever having seen Trinity levitate to raise holy hell on two units of simulated police.