Injection Moulding

injection moulding

We speak often of the relative rigidity of late modern sports, of the hard lines that constitute their disciplinary diagrams and rigorous production of athletic bodies and somewhat statistically-determinate "uncertain" outcomes. We are aware that these lines are in fact legislated as planes and that the sporting space is usually regulated as a volume rather than strictly a spectacular surface.

But it bears remembering that if the stadium is the factory of postmodern sporting production, then it is a certain plasticity which allows one form of assembly to substitute for another on the production line. Put differently, if the NFL is so easily able to transfer production to Wembley Stadium in London, or the FA is likewise able to travel to Washington for production at RFK, it is not only due to a relative congruity or topology between the rectangles that constitute gridiron and association football codes, respectively, but also to certain malleabilities in material and discursive space.

That turfgrass grows sufficiently long for it to be mowed and erase the very "painterly" conditions that govern production in other forms of sporting assembly, for example, is highly relevant to this modularity — an artificial green ecology in the service of a plastic injection moulding called sporting spectacle. And the televisual possibilities of programmed camera angles, intensive lighting, overlay graphics and audio commentary to constitute a coherent and consistent sporting narrative from anywhere in the world only adds to this plastic capability.

Indeed, what is most potentially intractable in this calculation of malleability is the plasticity of the live crowd in attendance at the factory. To what degree can this fleshy thirdness between sporting capital and televisual spectator mediate and suture together the filaments of an experience both synthetically fibrous and viscerally empirical? This is what is at stake in the economic decision to produce or shut down in non-local contexts under the contemporary conditions of plasticity.

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(thank you to amy for reminding me about "craptacular" or substandard production under certain plastic conditions. ;)

all in for contagion. (biogram/biopsy)

all in for contagion

a 21st century portrait

a 21st century portrait

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.

Permutations and Constellations

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.

Rupture: Layer
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.

Courtesy of Harun Farocki

harun farocki
deep play
2007
installation view

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Rupture: Space
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.

Courtesy of Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno

douglas gordon and philippe parreno
zidane: a 21st century portrait
2006
still from video

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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 . . .

Rupture: Time
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.

Courtesy of Isabel Lofgren

isabel löfgren
accumulated football (detail)
2011
photographic print
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.

Courtesy of Isabel Lofgren

isabel löfgren
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.

A Goal?

Goal

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."

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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."

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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?