Threnody from the Vision Machine

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D S NFORMAT ON
Threnody from the Vision Machine
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Sean Smith and
Department of Biological Flow

2001-2046

See and be seen. Interpolate and interpellate. In a gesture of fragility and exhaustion, the Department of Biological Flow considers questions of tempo, intensity and ethics in public space and interrogates opportunities for movement in the contemporary vision machine.

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January 12, 2012
Artlab Gallery
University of Western Ontario

Doors open: 7:30pm
Performance: 8:46pm
'ICQ (Inverted Cubofuturist Query)'

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Exhibition runs until January 26.

nietzsche and cixous go bicycle riding

pathfinder

the other day i'm in the local cycle repair shop getting my ride worked on when i overhear a sales guy refer to one of the bikes as "she." the customer responds in kind. breathed into existence, as with the great ocean-going vessels of yore or the sleek sports cars of today (or the internet of tomorrow?), "she" becomes that amorphous yet political name of the fetishized vehicular object. gender is there where we are looking for it, no doubt.

(one suspects this is not what nietzsche had in mind when he suggested that one must ride woman like a horse to push through the other side of a western patriarchy.)

but our technologies do not have a gender, at least not one that we can identify as inherently "stable" over time. they rather become gendered precisely in "how" they approach and engage the contexts and contingencies of relation. though there are always material considerations to these contexts and contingencies, gender, too, is amorphous, always outflowing that she-name attempting its capture.

shall we at least play the game? if there is in fact a gender to be located in these objects, it is not in their being-ness as static artefacts but rather in their possibilities for becoming — of literally making explicit the setting forth of change in which we are always already emerging. frances willard, for example, might have also thought of her bike as somewhat of a "she" but this she-name was an expression of collective empowerment and contemporary feminity, of attitude and dirty hands. she wanted to go as fast as the boys, and she did.

do not confuse this with the question of absolute speed, however. it is instead a question of passage. while the biking artefact has changed little over the past century, the choice to bike, like the choice to travel by ocean-going vessel today — the choice to "she" — has now become one of slowness.

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"she alone dares and wishes to know from within, where she, the outcast, has never ceased to hear the resonance of fore-language. she lets the other languages speak — the language of 1,000 tongues which knows neither enclosure nor death. to life she refuses nothing" (cixous, 'laugh of the medusa').

SEM.i/o.TEX


viriliovirno

Toward a Kinoderm Aesthetics

Mapping emergent territories

When designing a videogame character using 3-D modeling and animation tools, one begins the process with two separate, though interrelated, requirements: a wireframe "skeleton" of the character's body and a two-dimensional texture map of the character's facial appearance. That is, the skin of the character, while imagined as a volumetric construct, is always already understood in its design as a flat surface, laid bare, before its eventual (re)constitution as an animate form.

Face Texture Map

Hence, we may literally describe a cartography of the dermis whose features may be higher or lower in resolution, perhaps more crisp in detail or slightly blurred depending on the distortions in the fold to the volumetric.

The great ephemeral skin

"Open the so-called body and spread out all its surfaces: not only the skin with each of its folds, wrinkles, scars, with its great velvety planes, and contiguous to that, the scalp and its mane of hair, the tender pubic fur, nipples, nails, hard transparent skin under the heel, the light frills of the eyelid, set with lashes — but open and spread, expose the labia majora, so also the labia minora with their blue network bathed in mucus, dilate the diaphragm of the anal sphincter, longitudinally cut and flatten out the black conduit of the rectum, then the colon, then the caecum, now a ribbon with its surface all striated and polluted with shit; as though your dress-maker's scissors were opening the leg of an old pair of trousers, go on, expose the small intestine's alleged interior, the jejunum, the ileum, the duodenum …"

Courtesy of Stelarc

stelarc
stretched skin
2009
4m X 3m image / 3 photo panels

"… or else, at the other end, undo the mouth at its corners, pull out the tongue at its most distant roots and split it, spread out the bats' wings of the palate and its damp basements, open the trachea and make it the skeleton of a boat under construction; armed with scalpels and tweezers, dismantle and lay out the bundles and bodies of the encephalon; and then the whole network of veins and arteries, intact, on an immense mattress, and then the lymphatic network, and the fine bony pieces of the wrist, the ankle, take them apart and put them end to end with all the layers of nerve tissue which surround the aqueous humours and the cavernous body of the penis, and extract the great muscles, the great dorsal nets, spread them out like smooth sleeping dolphins" (Lyotard, Libidinal Economy, p.1).

Kino-gait

One moves through public space. Perhaps it is an overexposed space, or a space of pronounced acceleration in flux. Perhaps one's head is bowed slightly — in an effort to avoid visually dominating the other(s), or in a desire to frustrate authentication protocols, or in a simple attempt toward modesty. But if we are to locate ourselves in regimes of positionality that stand outside of or distinct from duration, we still need to "see" in some way.

It is a touch-based affective co-emergence that allows us to "see" in the process of moving through public space proper, with all of the politics that implies. And kino-gait offers a potentiality by which one may prosthetically explore a filtered memory of that same movement, with the subject located in the negative space of the embodied camera's multiple gaze.

Toward a kinoderm aesthetics

On the surface, it appears that one ought to view the images produced during the kino-gait process by projecting them onto some three-dimensional screen, perhaps shaped like the body of the individual who originally wore the camera apparatus: an anthropometrically correct screen. After all, we are describing a volumetric body moving relationally with other bodies in the corridors and conduits of biological flow. Do we not need to respect this phenomenon of the body, its tangible fact as thing?

No. Once the body has been imaged — even in negative space — and abstracted from relation, the distinctions between three-dimensional and two-dimensional outputs as technologies of expression become less significant (although not entirely trivial): a media-specific analysis suggests that either may prove more beneficial than the other in any particular context. It is rather how these outputs as aesthetic forms are inscribed in networks of power — as, for example, what Benjamin describes with "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" — that is of greater importance. How does power compromise the image produced in the abstraction of relation? How is relation compromised in turn?

Some omniocular visioning systems, such as motion capture, rely on a nearly perfect convergence of all camera lenses. In others, such as with ProZone, there simply needs to be a measure of overlap in order for the cameras to effectively monitor and communicate the position of a tracking-object. The point is that in any system at least two cameras ought to see the same marker at any one moment in time.

Given the complex contours that identify each of our body-volumes, not to mention the unique signatures in gait each of us performs, any kinoderm array of cameras will for the most part be characterized by divergence. We are curvy bodies, after all. And this is what curves do when the gaze is directed the other way: they diverge.

But the point remains: in any omniocular visioning system at least two cameras ought to see the same marker at any one moment in time. Even given the divergent qualities of any kinoderm array, this need not imply a large number of cameras. In Kino-Gait Study No.3 (above), there was a significant degree of overlap-through-divergence with only five cameras on the arrayed body.

Left: \'Aperture,\' courtesy of Antony Gormley

left: antony gormley
aperture
2009-10

Can we reverse engineer and transduce techniques of videogame modeling and animation to lift the kino-gait skin from the inscription of emergence and lay it flat on the surface? Can we invent new techniques? Can we literally describe a dynamic cartography of the kinodermis — whose features may be higher or lower in resolution, perhaps more crisp in detail or slightly blurred depending on the distortions in the fold from the volumetric?

Can we stitch the various cameras together, in other words, to provide a coherent two-dimensional text for the reader — a cinematic version of the Stelarcian skin discarded above?

Such techniques will require advanced dialogues with gait analysis, motion capture biomechanics, mathematics, digital signal processing, sculpting, choreography, music and others in order to create a similarly functional two-dimensional map of the space that is being surveyed. But it will also require holes, glitches, backdoors, easter eggs, etc. — what we might refer to as pores in the skin. In short, deludology as an active strategy of design so that the mobile political subject always retains opportunities for movement.

The deludic eruptions of holey space are but one element of a skin tectonics that offer the transludic subject-in-relation a micropolitics of maneuver.

Recombinant Football

(the following is from a proposal for idensitat [iD#6], Sport, Arts and Social Inclusion project laboratory, spain)

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"The [field] becomes configuring as the body recomposes. … What this means is that both body and space are experienced as alive with potential movement. … The body-[field] stratum is therefore neither object nor form, but infinite potential for recombination" (Erin Manning, Relationscapes, p.15).

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Phase One: Recombinant Play

1-Sided Football: How do we understand the sport of football in the absence of a willing community of competitors?

2-Sided Football: The traditional, binary form of football competition. What happens, though, when we add a second ball to the game? What happens when we remove the ball from the game and it must be collectively imagined in order for play to continue?

3-Sided Football: A reprisal of the three-sided football version proposed by Asger Jorn and the Situationst International to be played on a hexagonal pitch. In this version, however, we will also include the variants performed earlier: adding a second ball to play as well as removing the ball altogether, forcing the collective imagination to complete the game.

Phase One: Recombinant Play

Phase Two: Recombinant Skin

Registered Skin: The sports uniform is a particular semiotic technology designed to discipline or homogenize athlete identity, as well as allow fans to easily register members of "their" team on the field of play and cheer accordingly. Sport is also one of the few social domains in which numbers are directly inscribed to one's individual clothing.

Surgical Skin: Athletes will form groups of 3, one from each team. They will then collectively cut up their football jerseys into pieces, from which the three players will sew together 3 "new" jerseys as material artworks from the event.

Recombinant Skin: The new artworks become wearable, and the athletes return to the field of play for one final match of three-sided football. Strict visual identification is challenged and athletes become more reliant upon gesture.

Phase Two: Recombinant Skin

Phase Three: Recombinant Vision

To complement the first two analog phases of the project, which could be considered a performance followed by a material artwork or archival artefact, the third phase proposes a digital communication component that may be disseminated through various media channels (eg. gallery, web site, school). This will be a two-channel video that offers different, though "subjectively" interrelated, perspectives of the same event. The two channels, which we shall describe as "spectacle" and "kino-gait", are synchronized temporally but toggle back and forth between first- and second-channel positions on the screen.

Spectacle: The traditional camera angles that comprise professional sports television — sidelined, orthogonal, perspectival, fixed, panned. As closely as possible approximating the typical visual narratives of football.

Kino-Gait: What would happen if the skin-as-volumetric-construct could "see back" in surveillant space — in other words, if gait-as-skin-in-gesture became our method of seeing rather than the eye? Kino-gait should have multiple cameras functioning together to create a single omnidirectional volumetric vision. Its goal is to have the whole surface of the body function as an eye: the entire skin-as-camera becomes a preliminary limit of kino-gait. This is not to replace or diminish the flesh as a means or locus of knowing, but rather to complement or enhance it.

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(thank you to icarus for the balls e-idea)

touching, in grid

Swimming Grid. Bubble Matrix (left) courtesy of Antony Gormley

Alicia Imperiale, "Seminal Space: Getting Under the Digital Skin," in re:skin:

"We must question the issue of the intersection of the grid and the erotic body. A grid or mesh allows us to map space. A grid speaks of extensivity. endlessness, sameness, and the potential to calculate and define the indefinable. Could the grid, when laid over the smooth contours of a body, shape and discipline the unruliness of the growth of form? The grid monitors. The grid disciplines. The grid imposes a phylum on a growing ontology. The grid seeks relationships. The grid enmeshes the instrumental into the social. The mesh seeks networks of relationships on the surface of the moving and dynamically growing 'digital flesh'" (p.272).