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.

anamorphosis-raptorsanamorphosis-raptors

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
1533
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.

AutoImmune Wall

("biogramming base bodies: we're all in" - brief notes from a brief presentation made at the 2011 north american society for sport sociology conference in minneapolis)

Courtesy of adidasCourtesy of adidas

Narcosis

On December 31, 1999, the ESPN cable sports network ran its Greatest Moments of the 20th Century, a 6-minute 44-second compilation of the most epic highlights in (primarily American) sport since the advent of television. Set to Aerosmith's "Dream On," the effect is a spine-chilling barrage of significant moments culled from decades of sporting events and condensed into a few minutes of adrenaline-soaked nostalgia. If the average weeknight highlight reel has a mild narcotic effect to it, then Greatest Moments of the 20th Century was crack cocaine, folding a longer stretch of lived time and more intensely felt affects into a televisual delirium whose high fades shortly after consumption.

ESPN's video offers the viewer an accounting of time: in this compilation of the "best" and most memorable moments we have a linear accounting of time extracted from duration — a catalogue of sorts from which one must know all the references as proof of good fan subjectivity, whose cuts may thereafter be rearranged to create a particular narrative order in tandem with the theme music.

Courtesy of adidasCourtesy of adidas

Courtesy of adidasCourtesy of adidas

In early 2011, athletic footwear, apparel and lifestyle conglomerate adidas launched its worldwide marketing campaign "adidas is all in". Presented as a cosmopolitan moment in global sport and physical culture — at least insofar as its endorsers and target markets are concerned — the campaign's television creative consisted of 15, 30 and 60-second edits of a centrepiece 120-second ad, played at the launch of the campaign and available on Youtube thereafter. Within five months of the "adidas is all in" launch, the full-length version had been viewed over 2 million times.

In contrast with the ESPN video, "All In" is rather an accounting of globalized, cosmopolitan space in a durational moment of time: two minutes of sports and entertainment happening around the world right now. Set to a pulsing soundtrack by Justice, the moving gestures in this dynamic form are asignifiying in the sense that these sports and entertainment figures have been abstracted from referential time — one does not need to know nearly as many references in order to "comprehend" the video text. While Muybridge and Marey used stroboscopic photography to deconstruct the moving body into series of still images, adidas strobes bodies together with light and sound, moving-cuts moving through each break, amodally intermingling gestures as part of the composing form of the biogram.

Amodality

The cut moves from sound to image, as seen in the scene with football players barking like dogs morphing to stadium security apparatus (the latter of which legitimates the contest as an important event):

Courtesy of adidasCourtesy of adidas

The cut also moves through tiny explosions of light, "independent" of gesture in their luminescence:

Courtesy of adidasCourtesy of adidasCourtesy of adidasCourtesy of adidas

Goal

Eduardo Galeano once described the goal in soccer as that sport's orgasmic form. Interestingly, however, it is Rose the basketball player and not Messi the footballer who scores in the end, providing a release to the pent-up libidinal tension whose point of inflection may be found in the speed bag pummeling of frenulum or clitoris.

Courtesy of adidasCourtesy of adidasCourtesy of adidasCourtesy of adidas

This is definitely a schizorgasm we are describing, however. Rose's dunk is immediately followed by a punishing blow to the face in the boxing ring, which sets off a chain of aggression in the succeeding clips. (Consent?) As the pulsing waves of pleasure subside to a refractory period of shopping or consumption we are led through an affective tonality of aggression and conflict: the Haka warrior dance used by the New Zealand All-Blacks rugby team to intimidate opponents; two college football mascots fighting on the sidelines; a figure wearing a protective gas mask and holding a flaming torch, suggesting perhaps an ambiguous recognizance between street artist or political activist and providing a stark counter-punctum to the clip of security dogs and officers earlier in the video. It is intensities that have been represented, after all.

Courtesy of adidasCourtesy of adidas

Intensity and representation

A cultural studies read of the text as semiotic is certainly important — for example, within the representational elements of gender, race, embodiment or movement culture — but in a sense these are retrospectively coded understandings.

Courtesy of adidasCourtesy of adidas

As Brian Massumi suggests, "The kinds of codings, griddings, and positionings with which cultural theory has been preoccupied are no exception to the dynamic unity of feedback and feed-forward, or double becoming. Gender, race, and orientation are what Ian Hacking calls 'interactive kinds': logical categories that feed back into and transform the reality they describe (and are themselves modified by in return). Ideas about cultural or social construction have dead-ended because they have insisted on bracketing the nature of the process" (Parables for the Virtual, p.11).

It is the movements of becoming-bodies, rather, not to mention their (re)production through sophisticated digital editing techniques that emerge as the biogram and its composing form with which we should be concerned. This dynamism is forged under intense speed, a subtle narcosis of attack on perception that through a particular pathway of movement states simply "I want more."

we're all in.

(abstract submitted to the 2011 north american society for sport sociology conference in minneapolis)

Courtesy of adidasCourtesy of adidasCourtesy of adidasCourtesy of adidas

 

Biogramming Base Bodies: We're All In

In early 2011, athletic footwear, apparel and lifestyle conglomerate adidas launched its worldwide marketing campaign "adidas is all in". Presented as a cosmopolitan moment in global sport and physical culture — at least insofar as its endorsers and target markets are concerned — the campaign's television creative consisted of 15, 30 and 60-second edits of a centrepiece 120-second ad, played at the launch of the campaign and available on Youtube thereafter. Within five months of the "adidas is all in" launch, the full-length version had been viewed over 2 million times. Engaging Brian Massumi and Erin Manning's concept of the biogram and weaving threads of Félix Guattari's schizoanalytic ecology, this paper argues that the "adidas is all in" television creative leverages techniques of in/visibility that have changed the affective stakes for the fetishization of athletic celebrity and its related sports consumables.

 

Courtesy of adidasCourtesy of adidasCourtesy of adidasCourtesy of adidas

AutoImmune Response

_____________ _ _ _

"Riefenstahl's films develop the concept of dynamic form in Boccioni and the mobile cut in Deleuze/Bergson to arrive at a reassertion of the ways in which movement privileges expression over content. The foregrounding of dynamic form suggests that Riefenstahl composes with fascism but does not compose a fascist (disciplinary) body. What she composes is the expression of a becoming-body symbiotically linked to fascism but in excess of its disciplinarity. Riefenstahl composes-with. She begins with the beautiful, the young, the strong, but what she composes is never a particular or individual body. Movement is the commanding form of her work."

– Erin Manning, "From Biopolitics to the Biogram, or How Leni Riefenstahl Moves Through Fascism," in Relationscapes: Movement, Art, Philosophy, p.135.

Asymmetrical Relations

Almost exclusively, the modern sport project is founded upon the principle of symmetrical relations between competitors. We can understand this desire for symmetry along many dimensions, all of them instrumental. First, we can understand symmetry in terms of body composition, as in weight class, gender, disability, etc. This usually has to do with the question of produced force: in combat sports we separate by weight class so that the "weaker" opponent does not get hurt, while males and females usually do not play together due to perceived differences in strength. A useful contrast may be made here with the Japanese sport of sumo, in which all weight classes compete against one another in combinations of power and speed that do not privilege one over the other.

In theory, symmetrical relations also means that the same equipment is used by each athlete or team, though in practice this is a highly contentious area of sport. For example, the controversy over asymmetry in the 1988 America's Cup sailing regatta regarding what boats could and could not be used resulted in a New York State Supreme Court challenge. On a less dramatic scale, we might consider the new swimsuits developed by Speedo, which may only be available to certain athletes for the Beijing Olympics this summer, giving them a decided advantage in the pool.

And as the instrumentality of technology physically integrates with that of the body, things become even more problematic. Oscar Pistorius, the double amputee sprinter from South Africa, had to take his case to the world Court of Arbitration for Sport in order to be allowed to compete against able-bodied runners, since the International Olympic Committee had previously ruled that his prosthetic legs gave him an unfair biomechanical advantage in terms of energy return per stride. But David Howe of Loughborough University makes the interesting case that Pistorius' eligibility to compete against able-bodied runners in Beijing and beyond is immaterial; the real travesty, rather, is that as a double amputee (and thus possessing a smooth, symmetrical stride) Pistorius has been able to hone his skills in competition against single amputee sprinters (and their awkward asymmetrical gait).

As we further delve into into the question of symmetrical athletic bodies, we find the World Anti-Doping Agency. Any asymmetries arising in athletic competition must be grounded within the unitary athletic body in its genetic predisposition, refined through aptitude and hard work, and expressed through the poiesis of sporting performance. Substances, methods and other enabling technologies are permissible in this ethic of sport so long as they are supplementary to the organic unity of the athletic body and do not penetrate or pollute. And WADA claims the sovereign right to penetrate athletic bodies to make sure that such a symmetry persists.

Finally, we might understand symmetrical relations in terms of the number of athletes competing against one another in team sports. Every modern sport form first codifies in its rules the exact number of athletes that may compete for each team. In ice hockey, rugby league and other sports, one of the gravest threats is to have a player taken off the field and sent to the penalty box (or "sin bin") for their transgressions, forcing a numerical asymmetry. Here, useful contrasts may be drawn with the postmodern form of professional WWE-style wrestling, in which two or three wrestlers will routinely gang up against another. More grounded in modern sporting forms, the Situationist Asger Jorn critiqued this very principle of symmetry and its basis in binary thinking with his three-sided soccer.

In basketball, there is no such thing as a penalty box, though it is not impossible for there to be a numerical discrepancy in players. Once a player earns five fouls (six in the NBA), they are ejected from the game and a different player may substitute in their stead. But if there is no substitute available, either because too many players have fouled out, because of injuries, or because the roster was incomplete in the first place, then the offending team is forced to play at a numerical disadvantage. This happens rarely in major, sanctioned league competition, but occurs quite often in less formal men's and women's recreational leagues since a team might only begin a game with 5 or 6 players.

This is not to suggest that it is necessarily better to be the team with the numerical advantage in such a situation. In fact, quite often it is the opposite since the team with extra players over-passes the ball in order to get a perfect shot, and ends up thinking rather than reacting. I can recall winning a game in men's league with three healthy players and one playing on one leg due to a severe hamstring pull, since the other team couldn't figure out how to take advantage of the situation.

But all of this is all about a particular structural form of competition. In pickup basketball, on the other hand, competition can be equally as valued, yet not as obsessive about symmetrical relations. The pickup game is always already asymmetrical by virtue of those who participate on any given occasion.

6:45 a.m., New City YMCA, Chicago
No one in this gym knows I'm keeping a "diary."
No one knows what I do for a living.
No one knows how old I am. Unless someone checks to see whether I wear a wedding band — and guys don't generally look for that kind of thing — no one knows whether I'm married.
No one knows if I have kids. Or siblings. They don't know if my parents are still alive.
What kind of car do I drive? Or do I walk to the gym? Where exactly do I live?
No one has asked. No one cares. We don't talk about it.
And that's just fine.
If we were to talk, I'm sure we would find that some of us have a lot in common — kids, jobs, interests. Some of us might become permanent friends. Happens all the time, on the court and off.
But we don't talk.
We share one interest, intensely, for about one hour, twice a week. We talk about as much as we need to. Some friendly greetings before the game, and then the chatter of the game — "nice pass … check … ball's in … foul! …"
We generally try to learn our teammates' first names before a game starts, but we don't always remember them or use them. "Good finish, Jimmy" is about as personal as it gets. Over the weeks and months, faces and names tend to become more familiar, but that doesn’t mean we’re friends.
Not every pickup game is like this. But this one is. And I like it.

(Royce Webb, SportsJones)

In modern sport, despite the best efforts of authorities, relations can never be fully symmetrical no matter how much they are codified in language. But in the case of pickup basketball, a temporary community in which the only thing in common is that the players have nothing in common, the community is entered into freely as an act of mutual consent (cf. Nancy). As the basketball player has recently come to understand though, the resultant asymmetrical relations aren't too asymmetrical and that he will cherish always.