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.
Hans Holbein the Younger
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.
Football: the world's most represented sport. Allow us for a moment to misrepresent, to follow a few ruptures suggested by those individuals who understand representation in a different light: the artists.
In Deep Play Harun Farocki makes explicit the political and economic forces governing world class football. Put differently, there is a process of unlayering that reveals hidden layers that inscribe a purportedly free-flowing, improvisational football match and presents them as an unlayering of sorts. The layer of play is continually in dynamic form. Farocki's gesture is to split or tear the flow of athletic bodies into the various mappings and tracings that condition its emergence.
In Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait, Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno effect an approximate synchronization by having multiple cameras all track the same figure — Zidane — throughout the course of the match. Rather than following the ball as the true catalysis of play, as per usual on television, the cinematic experience tears this spatial privilege by focusing instead on Zidane. With sports television we have a contemporary transformation of cubofuturism — at least for the production director, who reduces the multiple surrounding perspectives and times to the flat linear narrative of the screen view. As we move to Gordon and Parreno's cinematic version this cubofuturism has been even more slowly considered to give us this portrait from the 21st century — a study of darting eyes and curved lines of approach, stillnesses bursting into intense flights of effort, economies of movement that must baffle an optical tracking systems approach as with that shown by Farocki.
douglas gordon and philippe parreno
zidane: a 21st century portrait
still from video
But we know these two works well, shiny objects in the Sport constellation of the art market. Allow us instead to triangulate between these two stars to approximate the position of a third . . .
In Accumulated Football, the Brazilian/Swedish artist Isabel Löfgren composes a football field by sampling and overlaying screenshots of television frames at regular 30-second intervals, a uniform, rhythmic gesture that opens up a plenitude of diversity within its program. In so doing, she makes explicit the forgotten fact of televised football: for the viewer at home the pitch is not 100-130 yards in length by 50-100 yards in width, as mandated by the world governing body FIFA, but rather exists in luminescent resolution at a standardized 16:9 or 4:3 aspect ratio. The field of view is always a cropped version of the live action, whose precise representational dimensions depend on a calculus between maximizing the number of players on the pitch at once and showing each athlete in as much visual detail as possible. It is always a framed subset of the genuine article — flattened, dulled — that is constituted as the visible for the gaze and touch of remote consumers.
accumulated football (detail)
225 x 45 cm
Modern television production sidesteps this calculus somewhat by adding camera perspectives to the mix, cutting back and forth between various angles and focal resolutions — such as the approach described earlier with the Zidane film. But Löfgren sticks resolutely with the main wide-angle shot, for her interest is less concerned with space than with time. She extracts time from the moving television image to (re)constitute the match anew as a still photograph: layering, transparency and saturation are presented as strategies for compressing and composing time.
accumulated football (detail)
As such, the field becomes populated by uniformed spectres that dart along different movement vectors, blurring into betweenness and foregrounding frame rate — apparitions of the multiple body as it moves within time. None of these bodies are necessarily true or false but rather exist in ternary logic: perhaps yes or perhaps no. They suggest alternative retrospective codings to those revealed by Farocki in Deep Play.
And not surprisingly, this compression of time effects a corresponding perceptual dilation of space in turn: the football field simply feels longer than usual, as if "breaking out" or reaching beyond the horizontal boundaries of the television frame has stretched our normal understanding of matter(s). To flip the relation, Accumulated Football perhaps offers a cogent reminder of precisely the box in which we somatically exist, static in both senses of the televised word.
David Graeber, 'The New Anarchists,' New Left Review, 13, p.64:
"More and more, activists have been trying to draw attention to the fact that the neoliberal vision of 'globalization' is pretty much limited to the movement of capital and commodities, and actually increases barriers against the free flow of people, information and ideas."
- - -
Brian Massumi, Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation, p.72:
"So what is the condition? Quite simply, a field. No field, no play, and the rules lose their power. The field is what is common to the proto-game and the formalized game, as well as to informal versions of the game coexisting with the official game and any subsequent evolution of it. The field-condition that is common to every variation is unformalized but not unorganized. It is minimally organized as a polarization. The field is polarized by two attractors: the goals. All movement in the game will take place between the poles and will tend toward one or the other. They are physical limits. The play stops when the ball misses or hits the goal. The goals do not exist for the play except tendentially, as inducers of directional movement of which they mark the outside limits (winning or losing). The goals polarize the space between them. The field of play is an in-between of charged movement. It is more fundamentally a field of potential than a substantial thing, or object. As things, the goals are signs for the polar attraction that is the motor of the game. They function to induce the play. The literal field, the ground with grass stretching between the goals, is also an inductive limit-sign rather than a ground in any foundational sense. The play in itself is groundless and limitless, taking place above the ground-limit and between the goal-limits."
- - -
As we have noted here on several occasions, modern sport both contributes to and creates new forms for the project of enclosure, which complements those hierarchical bulwarks of state and corporation — as popular discourse, athletic labour force and spectacular commodity. Think shifts in the geography of the arena proper, jersey numbers on uniforms, radio frequency chip tagging, anti-doping protocols, omniocular camera tracking systems, and many others.
Even with a game as simple as football/soccer/fútbol, Massumi points out, this begins with the goal. The goal catalyzes a field of play, yes, potentializes those bodies that move about within its space, yes, but is also a point of finitude: there is no after the goal. Rather, we are confronted with disappearance into a void, spatiotemporal coordinates becoming mathematical integer, one metric exchanged for another, goal becoming goooooooaaaaaaaaaaal.
What if the goal was not simply a foreclosure of athletic poiesis, a terminal point of the enclosure whence one escapes only to be thrust back inside? What if the goal was an opening onto something, somewhere, sometime, a portal to thinking and becoming, a worlding?
What lies beyond finitude?
it's an odd relationality that constitutes this place we call time.
a memory, or fading inscription . . .
sexualization, where only sexual overproduction and heteronormativity hold sway.
from a hip synchronization of gesture emanating at the world cup in africa, to its remainder, which circulates across continents as the diasporal memetic flows of leisure tourism, a contagion in those sites of spectacular consumption, confinement and hygiene. a young teenage girl more or less mimics the hips of the slightly older latina woman leading the dance and glimpses what a body can do.
all for a football tournament, that motor of integrated world capitalism.
("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)
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.
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.
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):
The cut also moves through tiny explosions of light, "independent" of gesture in their luminescence:
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.
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.
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.
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."