klōn, gestation, labour, natality

Dawning

Clone

i woke up one morning to find out i had been cloned.

it was painless, really. a few bits of data lying around had suddenly been reconstituted into a new me. clippings whose sum value approaches zero as the replication approaches infinity, the baudrillard-image might suggest, xeroxing their way across the ecosystem.

i didn't feel a thing…

Gamespace (Panic)

Clone

'Replication has also long been manifest in the sportocratic imagination, its genealogical roots reaching back at least to the mechanical reproduction of baseball cards and bubblegum. But these flattened, lifeless representations lack sufficient dynamism for a culture hell-bent on its own immortality, and so we begin to animate the images by repurposing the data stocks and flows generated as a derivative of baseball's industrial production process. At the cusp between biomechanics and the age of simulation, Strat-O-Matic becomes the link in the helical chain connecting Branch Rickey and scientific management in baseball with Billy Beane, the sabermetric revolution and the third wave eugenics of baseball performance.'
(June 2006)

Corpus

Clone

'Though the vector of flow is clearly directed towards an obsolescence of the body, the question is if we will continue to see periodic eddies in the current, in which we "retrieve" the body or parts thereof for one purpose or another.'
(July 2005)

* * *

Bodies without organs.
Bodies without bodies.
_____ without _____.
Fill in your own fucking theory.
(June 2007)

Intensity

Clone

'This identity constellation of corporate consumer control is marked by its architecture and interface, and it obscures its bodily remainders in the process. In navigating multiple identities, on the other hand, one explicitly acknowledges the remainders, indeed embraces them. The former is an administered, metered and exchanged passage into the skin, while the latter offers a contingent and outward invitation of the flesh.'
(March 2009)

Mimetic Polycarbon

Mimetic Polycarbon
(Facebook Self-Portrait)
January 30, 2010

'The gestural body is a moving body, and is thus always already a political one as well. The logic of skin tectonics suggests that such a moving body will never be fully captured by the tightness of its spectacular skin, for there will always be a slippage between integumentary layers. And it is this slippage that constitutes the contemporary zone of opportunity, of resistance, and of indifference.'
(February 2010)

Coda

Boris Groys, 'The Weak Universalism', e-flux:

"Today, in fact, everyday life begins to exhibit itself—to communicate itself as such—through design or through contemporary participatory networks of communication, and it becomes impossible to distinguish the presentation of the everyday from the everyday itself. The everyday becomes a work of art—there is no more bare life, or, rather, bare life exhibits itself as artifact. Artistic activity is now something that the artist shares with his or her public on the most common level of everyday experience. The artist now shares art with the public just as he or she once shared it with religion or politics. To be an artist has already ceased to be an exclusive fate, becoming instead an everyday practice—a weak practice, a weak gesture. But to establish and maintain this weak, everyday level of art, one must permanently repeat the artistic reduction—resisting strong images and escaping the status quo that functions as a permanent means of exchanging these strong images."

__________

(to laura dean, for fanning the flames)

Scientifically Framing the Artwork

Courtesy of Ted Williams

"My first rule of hitting was to get a good ball to hit. I learned down to percentage points where those good balls were." — Ted Williams, The Science of Hitting, 1970

"And not only shouldn't we look to technique or the economy for the secrets of the code; it is, on the contrary, the very possibility of industrial production that we should look for in the genesis of the code and the simulacra. … [T]he entire order of production is in the process of tumbling into operational simulation." — Jean Baudrillard, Simulations, 1983

Relational Fibres and Optics

Terror

Amber Scoon's recent art works freak me out. Sheer terror, viscerally felt.

Dawn, Crepuscular

The year is 1972, three months after I was born. As the corona of the sun rises over the crest of the Earth's surface, the astronauts of the Apollo 17 lunar module look back to take a photo. The space travelers responsible for the image are barely tethered to the planet by the just-perceptible pull of its gravity and an even less perceptible umbilicus of electromagnetic spectrum and machinic communication protocol. Beyond lies nothing but cosmology and its sense of the void. Simultaneously colossal and microscopic, the "Blue Marble" image inspires great awe across Earth and hints at the emergence of a new regime of scopic perception.

Courtesy of NASA

It is poised on the precipice of detachment and sheer terror, then, that the crew of the Apollo 17 produces an image of unspeakable beauty, a work of and for the imagination.

I meet Amber nearly four decades later in the spring of 2008. At first she is an image as well, all blue jeans and fitted black jacket and checked scarf standing against a painted Hollywood backdrop of impossible Swiss mountains and sunshine. But, almost inversely to the "Blue Marble" photo, the amber-image begins to decompress, expand its data, unfold. Figure emerges from ground, fibrous, to give birth to a new instance of relationality. Might we suggest that these fibres grew in a moebius form, not unlike with Apollo 17, the gravitational pull between two bodies twisting or flipping into an umbilicus of communication and protocol?

Several

We are each constituted by more than one of these relational moebius strips, each of us several in our singularity. These relational fibres grow at rates different for each unique relation, to different thicknesses or densities of weave. Each one may be shorter or longer in total surface and decay at a different rate, despite being woven of essentially the same stuff.

Courtesy of Amber Scoon

amber scoon
autoimmune wall (trying not to fall - phase 2)
2008
string, screws, wood

This is because the "stuff" of which they are woven is both organic and technic, born of flesh, gesture and linguistic interface. And as these relations move to fibre optic communication networks there emerges a doubling or higher degree of complexity to the assemblage, with the moebius relations themselves becoming subject to a new moebius topology bounded by the here of local presence and the now of (nearly) instantaneous electronic transmission. These fibres, too, become subject to the rationality of industrial agriculture, this time in the form of social networking.

Tango

Each of us forms a node in a broader network of these moebius relations. The web weaves through spaces and places both material and informational, mappings and tracings alike left in the wake of its continual emergence. But we must remember that this web emerges first and foremost from the moving body. The larger one's node in the network becomes, the greater potential for this moving body to form knots in these relations, knots somatically registered with a particular sense of anxiety.

Courtesy of Amber Scoon

amber scoon
falling (#1)
2009
fabric, string, rope, rock

The moving body finds itself bound in a relational tango, to borrow the abstract diagram of intersubjective micropolitics suggested by Erin Manning. Or, already being several, it finds itself in a series of moebius part-dances with other individuals that attempt not to cross footsteps: as one body releases from the other in tango, given the space from which it may choose to return (anxiety), a differential space is opened in which other part-dances and their relational fibres may intersect or form knots and entanglements.

The body thus finds itself in dances of relation, yes, but also in separate dances of disentanglement — the unweaving of knotty potentials and their somatic consequences.

Matrix

"I hear it feels like you escape gravity."

So breathlessly whispers the awed female reporter to Dan Davis, the elite American sprinter and protagonist of "World Record," one of the animated short films featured in the Animatrix anthology. Davis is returning to top form after having been stripped of a previous world record race time and is poised to run in the finals of a major competition the following day. Though he faces a private battle of self-doubt concerning his comeback, Davis is all bravado and sexuality as he crosses the hotel lobby toward the elevator, reporter in tow.

"It's like nothing in this world."

Of course Dan Davis — like everyone else in this cast of characters — lives in the Matrix, the Wachowski-inspired simulation of reality born of statistical method and synthetic perception. This matrixial alter-reality serves to keep docile an entire breed of domesticated humans that provide bioelectrical power to the machines that have supplanted Homo sapiens on the evolutionary ladder. As Paul Virilio notes in Open Sky, escape velocity on a world scale of bodies — or space colonization — has proven to be an empty dream. Empire thus turns inward to endocolonize its subjects, not least through those information technologies that interface directly with the human body. Not only does Dan Davis' performance at the stadium produce gravitational resonance with the others who run with him, but the race video and timing systems also produce information that is then fed back into the simulation.

The narrator reminds us at the beginning of the film that only the most exceptional people — through intuition, sensitivity, and a questioning nature — become aware of the Matrix. Under certain circumstances, however, others may gain this insight as well. Our protagonist is hampered by an injured quadriceps muscle as he steps into the starting blocks for the finals, but Agents from the Matrix are on hand to monitor his performance. The gun fires, the runners blast from the blocks and accelerate down the track. With his huge elegant strides, Davis edges into the lead as the pack approaches the finish line. All of a sudden the muscle fibres of Davis' quadriceps are pushed to rupture; he nearly breaks stride. With time slowing down, Davis redoubles his determination and pushes through the pain that screams from this fleshy biomechanical lever responsible solely for producing speed.

The Agents are alerted to a possible security breach in the network. They attempt to capture him.

Courtesy of The Animatrix

Suddenly time stops, or more precisely, folds in upon itself. The pain is unbearable, but for a split-second goes unnoticed. The floating numerical linguistics of time, space and athletic performance envelop his body, immanently, revealing themselves as part of the broader weave of mathematics and image that creates the simulation. He is beyond the grasp of the Agents. Dan Davis has become aware of the Matrix.

For the rest of us still stuck here, however, a few questions are in order. Is it simply the pursuit of raw, unadulterated speed that makes one aware of its existence? After all, Davis had already broken the world record before, abetted by pharmaceuticals or no. Why hadn't he become aware already? Did he reach an objective switch point with his new world record time of 8.33 seconds, which propelled him into a different channel on the network or granted him passage beyond?

No. Dan Davis became aware of the Matrix when his moving athletic body reached a strategic nexus of speed, poiesis and pain.

Tumour

In Growth and AutoImmune Wall, Amber displays a similar awareness of the matrixial web in which we exist. The pain is of a different sort, however. With each work, one imagines the countless hours invested, the permutations and combinations of the weave, all felt in the supple yet dull ache of the artist's fingers. In this familiarity with the fibres one perceives time folded and compressed into a static artwork that strains at the very seams of its emergent process.

Amber is decidedly ambivalent about the connective fibres that form our relations. Though each work exhibits a lushness in its sinewy fabric, each also embodies the accidents of tangle, rupture and decay. In other words, they possess organic qualities that complement the technical elements of the fibre's production. Since each is made of the same "stuff" — namely, twine and string — this ambivalence becomes even more apparent when the pieces are taken together in an assemblage that includes her earlier Wool Boxes, the more recent Falling and Skin Series, and the collaborative work Cancer, Crack and Chinese Shoes.

Courtesy of Amber Scoon

amber scoon
growth
2009
twine, wool, string

Curiously, this proposition makes more sense in resonance with a recent quote by Garrick Barr, CEO of Synergy Sports Technology, a company that provides a real-time video-indexing statistical engine and online retrieval system for professional sports teams: "So we have 11 generic play types. In '98 when I designed the first report, I had to sort of examine and figure out, if you will, the oncology of the sport so that we could log it accurately and consistently to satisfy professionals, and having been one I was in a pretty good position to try to do that" (italics added).

Generally speaking, ontology is the philosophical means of describing our very being in the world or what it means to exist, while oncology concerns the medical study and treatment of cancer. It seems that the typo in Barr's quote exists as noise in a signal system, no? Though such interference patterns appear increasingly normative, one supposes certain errors are worse than others.

In this case, however, the typo may be illustrative. The word ontology assumes a different meaning in the information sciences, understood instead as the study of rationally-determined relationships that govern a particular data set within a particular domain. This sort of attempt to develop an ontology of relationships present during the production of a professional sporting event, with ever-more minute striations of the athletic body yielding ever-less notable differences, is precisely such a mutation in process one would consider an oncological risk factor. When one examines the contemporary economics and politics of professional sport, one perceives an exponential accumulation of database entries and self-referential linguistic production in the service of vectoral capital, which is turning back in on itself to form what was first referred to by Jean Baudrillard as the cancer produced by the society of simulation.

These relations of athletic bodies emerge during the event, for they are moving bodies, and as such should be considered ontogenetic, to use the term proposed by Brian Massumi. But considering the attempt to capture this relational emergence in the service of self-referential capital, as with Synergy Sports Technology and its ilk, we might also consider them oncogenetic, or possessing the potential under certain conditions to spawn exponentially cancerous growths. One weaves and weaves and weaves, fingers supple and aching, only to find cancer and death.

Tensility

One of the lessons we may learn from Antony Gormley's career of autobiographical study in sculpting the human form is a progressive dematerialization of the body as it integrates with networks of data. Indeed, in works such as the Feeling Material series, this dematerialization is felt in his "least material necessary" strategy, with the body beginning to orbit and shed its fixity in space and time.

While Gormley seems primarily concerned with studies of the body proper, however, Amber inquires after the relations between bodies. As such, process becomes ever more evident and the body is less represented than it is invested: how much fibre is required for the relation to be woven thick and sturdy?

Or, to follow the minimalism of Gormley's Feeling Material one might rather ask: how little?

Courtesy of Amber Scoon

amber scoon
wool box 5
2006
wool, string, wood

Can a shared train ride to Paris or an espresso under the warm gaze of coastal sunshine be sufficient? Can eye contact, the original scopic regime of relation, provide sufficient resonance in relief from the backdrop of spectacle? Can one's degree of exposure provide a basis for understanding these emerging fibres of relation?

Excision

Though each of us certainly possesses multiple relations that condition the possibilities of our everyday, it behooves us to imagine for a moment being the astronaut photographer mentioned earlier, having only the singular weave of fibres maintaining one's tether to the Earth. Would you risk that organic and technic are in fact discrete categories of relation and chance the oncological consequences that might dynamically emerge in either? Or, if the moebius strip thesis resonates as false, would you wager that the gravitational pull of the planet and the communication link with ground control were distinct entities? If so, which would you choose to sever in order to excise a potentially cancerous tumour: that which maintains the presence of the other body, or that which allows for language to exist?

Courtesy of The Animatrix

Which gives birth to unspeakable beauty?

Perhaps in this last question lie the strands of my own sheer terror.

Pixel to Pellicule to Projection

For my own part, I will consider myself content with my work if, in attempting to locate the place and theme of testimony, I have erected some signposts allowing future cartographers of the new ethical territory to orient themselves.

— Giorgio Agamben


(part three of a three-part series: see also pixel and pixel to pellicule)

Pellicule

Given a spectacle as lavish and complex as the Opening Ceremonies of an Olympic Games, it can be difficult to justify the isolation of one particular component as being more worthy of attention than the rest. Indeed, in the case of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics and its Opening Ceremonies the politics of identity also merit close consideration, particularly as they concern the representation of Canada's indigenous peoples, the varied Olympic sporting nationalisms, and the recently deceased Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili.

Courtesy of CTVOlympics

That said, however, this essay will isolate and question a different component of the integumentary function during the Vancouver 2010 Opening Ceremonies, namely the white ponchos worn by nearly every each spectator in attendance. Though Vancouver was plagued by mild temperatures and rain in the days preceding the Games, the ponchos on hand were not there to protect spectators from the elements — indeed, these were the first fully indoor Opening Ceremonies. Rather, they were used as the screen on which the purveyors of sporting spectacle projected various images to mark the Olympic Games' opening.

At the Vancouver Olympics we witnessed yet another flip in the topology of discipline, spectacle and control — that is to say, in the topology of contemporary politics. No longer the disciplinary grid of the pixelated card stunt, no longer the undulating wave derived from the grid's discrete sequential logic, subjectivity in the stadium seats has mutated once again. The projection of Olympism onto the screen of ponchos completely smoothed the striations of the enclosed stadium layout, creating from their disciplinary subjects the unity of a single skin.

Subjective skin

In Michelangelo's The Last Judgment, painted on the front altar wall of the Sistine Chapel, there is a detail of the fresco in which Saint Bartholomew holds a rough knife in his right hand and his own flayed skin in the left. Bartholomew's gesture is at once a turn toward the Lord and a recoil from His presence. And of particular interest to this essay, the skin he holds in his left hand is meant to be a portrait Michelangelo painted of himself.

Sistine Chapel (Detail)

michelangelo
the last judgment (detail)
1537-1541

Scholarship has varied about what Michelangelo intended by introducing his self-portrait into the skin of Saint Bartholomew. The violent flaying of the skin, both an act of homage to the Lord and a punishment for his refusal to endorse paganism. The knife wielded by Bartholomew himself. All variables that complexify the "intent" of the artist, one from so many centuries ago who represents a story that originates centuries earlier.

It matters little to our present discussion which interpretation of Michelangelo's intent is the "correct" one. Instead, we draw our attention to the fact that in the time passed since the mid-sixteenth century, the "knowledge" that Saint Bartholomew's skin bore a self-portrait of Michelangelo was known, "forgotten" for centuries, and then "rediscovered" by the Italian physician Francesco La Cava. We draw our attention to the fact that a primarily oral tradition (knowledge of Michelangelo's self-portrait) was rendered extinct — before its eventual rekindling by the physician's visual capacity. We draw our attention to the very fact that a collective audience could imagine the artist representing his subjectivity by inscribing or revisioning a skin that was already known as belonging to someone else.

It is the American art critic and historian Leo Steinberg who questions the lengthy interval between those eras that understood Saint Bartholomew's flayed skin as portraying Michelangelo himself. Why this temporal gap or disconnect? Why was it a physician, La Cava, who "rediscovered" the self-portrait? Was it simply, as Steinberg suggests, that as a physician he was immune to the discursive boundaries of art orthodoxy and thus more free to discover?

Or can we resist this simple negation and suggest that as a physician La Cava was likely already aware of the body's medicalization via technical imaging processes? Aware that it was the gestural moving body that was captured by the varied forms of kinematic visioning? Or that the cinema constituted a plastic art and science of the skin (pellicule) long before such techniques moved from the flat surface to the contoured body? That the "rediscovery" of Michelangelo's self-portrait entered art discourse in 1925, scant decades after the emergence of popular cinema in many areas of the world, is perhaps not surprising.

Surgery

It is said the mark of a good plastic surgeon is that one cannot view scar tissue artefacts from the incising, folding and stitching of a subject's skin, at least given the sufficient focal distance from which one is to make such a consideration. We can remark, then, on the skilled surgeons of spectacle who so neatly sewed together the ponchoed pellicules in the stands of Vancouver Olympic Stadium: when viewed from the perspective of the television camera, or indeed, from the other side of the stadium, the skin appeared whole and relatively unmarked — a touch weathered, perhaps, but certainly bearing little overt evidence of scarring to its surface.

Courtesy of CTVOlympics

We might suggest it is Pointillism updated for the current technological age: no longer the round dot of the point nor the square of the pixel, but the irregularly bounded figure that is the polygon, multiplied and (texture) mapped together to create the screen. It is the logic of volumetric striation and the sports videogame avatar: a large set of differential polygon shapes stitched together that reduce to the flat plane of television those elements we most consider gestural.

As the gestural is captured by the skin's surface orientation we shift our focus to that which has been projected onto the screen, namely, icons representing various Olympic sports and flags representing the competing nations. In other words, those fantasies of sporting inclusion and fraternal nationalism we collectively understand as "Olympian," discursively inscribed onto the screen as necessarily belonging to particular sports or to the nation-state form of political sovereignty.

We noted earlier that sport is one arena in which the supposed decline of the nation-state posited by Hardt and Negri's Empire thesis has not been confirmed. To the contrary, it is the vigor with which nation-versus-nation sporting competition continues to resonate that obscures those other actors in sport's imperial meshwork and their varied conjunctures with one another. Might we even suggest that sport offers the opportunity for the excesses of the imperial system — that is, for the nationalist tensions that arise as neoliberal capital flows smoothly across borders — to be safely dissipated via the differential flows of television signals and allow for the overall health of the machine-organism?

The hygienic theatre

It is Virilio who suggests that those who are absent from the stadium are always right. But Baudrillard goes further: as mentioned earlier, the lesson he draws from the Heysel disaster is that the spectators need to be purged from the stadium in favour of the strictly televisual. John Bale locates in this a fulfillment of his "surgical" model of the sportscape, a sterile space free of spectators and in which only the athletic operations themselves are conducted on the stadium floor. Indeed, given the raw ponchoed skins that have just so recently been stitched together for the Vancouver Opening Ceremonies, one would hope the hygienic standards of the stadium approach those of the surgical clinic.

To illustrate this hygienic quality we shall take a slight detour to explore the glow sticks that were also handed out to each spectator at the stadium. Given the high definition capability of television and the high resolution of the spectator screen, the glow sticks provided to each audience member should be understood as much smaller objects than the cards of the pixel stunt, and thus fulfilling a quite different function. While the cards of the pixelated stunt were engineered to communicate a particular signal, the glow sticks serve to reintroduce noise to the high definition display of digital signal, adding a lushness not unlike that which a musician might engineer into a contemporary digital recording with the artefacts of vinyl static.

Courtesy of CTVOlympics

This lushness is visible both by those present at the stadium and those watching at home, which is not to suggest that these become identical subject positions. The spectator at home exists as a function of the eye, which is to say as a function of both the camera eye and the television producer's eye. This functions as either a sort of real-time Cubism in which multiple simultaneous viewpoints are filtered to the singular perspective of the final work, or as a more scripted logistics of perception that features pre-calculated camera sightlines corresponding to the action below.

Recall that Benjamin likened the cameraman to the surgeon, who "greatly diminishes the distance between himself and the patient by penetrating into the patient’s body, and increases it but little by the caution with which his hand moves among the organs." The warm ambience of the glowstick noise obscures the hygienic sterility in which digital spectacle is produced for the spectator at home.

The zone

The spectator at the stadium, on the other hand, exists in a middle zone as both subject and object of this particular drama, the hygiene of digital also modulating this multiple relationality. Kittler's dramatic introduction to Gramophone, Film, Typewriter offers us a clue as to the particular reason why:

Before the end, something is coming to an end. The general digitization of channels and information erases the differences among individual media. Sound and image, voice and text are reduced to surface effects, known to consumers as interface. Sense and the senses turn into eyewash. Their media-produced glamor will survive for an interim as a by-product of strategic programs. Inside the computers themselves everything becomes a number: quantity without image, sound, or voice. And once optical fiber networks turn formerly distinct data flows into a standardized series of digitized numbers, any medium can be translated into any other. With numbers, everything goes. Modulation, transformation, synchronization; delay, storage, transposition; scrambling, scanning, mapping — a total media link on a digital base will erase the very concept of medium. Instead of wiring people and technologies, absolute knowledge will run as an endless loop (p.1).

During the Vancouver Opening Ceremonies, the loop of absolute knowledge in question ran between the space of the stadium and the space of the home, which begs a question. If synthetic means of perception today rely almost wholly on digital forms of recording, inscription, encoding, transmission and storage, then why does the bank of spectators, this screen onto which the Opening Ceremonies were projected, still need to be present? Why can't the images of the national flags and the sporting icons — and indeed, the spectators themselves — be superimposed on the television screen (as with a graphic overlay that displays statistics), or digitally integrated into the "real" of the stadium, (as with football's first down line)? If, as Baudrillard and Virilio suggest, it is those at home watching who are always right, why is it that the stadium spectators are still required?

One of the lessons we learned from the 2008 Summer Olympic Games and its Opening Ceremonies was precisely such an indistinction between actual and synthetic spaces, most notably manifest in the fireworks display that exploded both in gunpowdered form at Beijing National Stadium and as a digital simulation on telescreens worldwide. This optical doubling was meant to ensure that televisual perception remained pristine in the event that problems befell the live fireworks display — namely, low visibility due to purportedly poor air quality. Once again, those absent from the stadium appeared to be right.

It could be said that the stadium spectators are still required because the revenues they bring from ticket sales, concessions, and sponsor imprints are desirable to the profit-maximizing actors who constitute Sporting Empire. But these are risky revenues. Aggregating a live audience post-9/11 is risky, and thus costly: the Vancouver Organizing Committee spent $950 million on the varied security measures employed during the Games. That the risk is borne at all speaks to a shift from State sovereignty and its right to kill, which today becomes biopolitics and its "primary objective to transform the care of life and the biological as such into the concern of State power" (Agamben, Remnants of Auschwitz, p.155). An expense of nearly a billion dollars to secure territory for a two-week sporting competition gives this biopolitical "care of life" a rapid quantitative grounding.

The care of biological life as a security matter is risky, yes, but from a different perspective so is the signal coming from the image-factory that is the sports stadium. The Opening Ceremonies of an Olympic Games, in particular, exist among the most elaborately constructed spectacles in human history, both at the stadium and on television. An entire choreography of perception to capture the dazzling displays in the building for television, admitting to its own presence as infrequently as possible. The actors on the floor are relatively scripted, but what about the spectator-subjects in the stands? How can we be certain they will not compromise the signal in any way? What if someone engineered the contagion of a Wave?

Are these revenues really worth the risk?

Given the scripted choreography of perception produced in Hollywood today, one presumes the CGI rendering capabilities are sophisticated enough to display either a screen of projected imagery or a crowd of stadium spectators. But Kittler's observation about the shift to digitality proves key. If we can question the simulation of fireworks, national flags, sports icons and spectators, certainly we can question the simulation of the event itself, erasing the very concept of the stadium? Is this not the lesson of sports videogames and their rapidly "improving" binary-coded artificial intelligence engines?

Courtesy of CTVOlympics

That the sporting event actually exists is the first layer in the carefully constructed apparatus of truth that is contemporary televised sport. This truth possesses a digital representation, inscription, transmission and storage, but what it wants is its legitimation, which it finds in the flesh relation of those analog bodies located at either end of the communication channel and its endless loop (cf. Massumi, "On the Superiority of the Analog"). It is the spectator at the stadium who provides this fleshy legitimation to the televiewer at home, a last gasp for real space to roar in a relation dominated by real time.

For one fails to understand the roar of the stadium crowd if one considers it simply an acoustic phenomenon. As Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht suggests, it is rather "a physical point of self-reference through which the crowd perceives and transforms itself into one unified body" (In Praise of Athletic Beauty, p.215). It is an expression of intensity made manifest, made corporeal: the linguistic signifiers of aural outpouring, yes, but also the gestural qualities of the roaring act and the flesh resonance with both the thousands of others in attendance and those who perform on the stadium floor.

In fact, there need not even exist a roaring crowd for there to be a comparable level of intensity perceived by those in attendance. A stillness — an anticipation of what is to come — may resonate with the flesh in a fashion quite as intense as the great roar. We might say there is a buzz in the air, the quiet hum of voices that gives the pregnant silence its lush quality. We might say one could cut the tension with a knife, perhaps the most damning indictment of the tangibility of flesh's non-tangibility, of the relational weaves that develop their tensility with each passing moment of anticipation, and of the latent urge to sever these fibres lest one be consumed by the intensity of their relation.

Perversion, inversion

In a perversion of Foucault's analysis of the panopticon, the disciplining of the spectator becomes that which contributes to the production of sporting spectacle itself. Anyone may step into the guard tower, yes, and observe those in the partitions of competition (given sufficient discretionary income, of course), thus participating in the exercise of disciplinary power. But the spectator also becomes among the observed when the vectors of archive and telesthesia are introduced to the production of spectacle: the "guards in the tower" are also seen by the television cameras, surveillance cameras, and cellphone cameras that proliferate in this ludic space. They, too, become Foucauldian "objects of information, never subjects in communication," at least insofar as we are describing communication in its traditional linguistic sense.

Given the always-on digitality of Kittler's new media order, the "guards" themselves become performers in the discursive production of the mediated event and confirm the affective response that the television audience at home is meant to embody. Guarding, as such, comes to mean communicating the very analog fact of having spectated the event, with communication understood as based in flesh resonance and its corresponding gesture.

No matter how sterile the space becomes, the stadium spectator will never be exiled from the surgical theatre in favour of the televiewers back home. So long as the optics of televised spectacle remain perspectival in nature, the vectors of telesthesia will never fully reproduce the volumetric of the stadium spectator. Even if they do somehow, if the optics become volumetric and the avatar can more closely approximate the gestural body of the spectator at home, it remains that the analog resonance of flesh will not have been duplicated. And so the spectator at the stadium becomes the uneasy compromise that sporting Empire must concede in order to give synthetic perception and its audience a grounding and legitimation in the resonance of flesh witnessing.

What is a stadium?

It was suggested earlier that in the stadium we find echoes of Agamben's inquiry into the camp as a form of life governing biopolitics everywhere. While we do not mean to draw an equivalence between the deportees of Auschwitz and high performance athletes, we should draw attention to those structuring principles found in the most extreme version of the camp and how they enter the ludic arena to govern the biopolitics of sport. The enclosure of the stadium, the serialization of spectators and inscription of athletes within, and the topological transformation of the space to police performance enhancing substances and methods all constitute a particular state of exception that we might describe under the broad emerging rubric of lex sportiva. We find additional evidence with the conversion of the stadium space from its role in the production of ludic capital to other purposes during times of warfare, emergency, contagion, or disaster.

Indeed, Agamben himself draws the link between the stadium and the camp-as-form on a few different occasions. In Means Without End: Notes on Politics, he writes:

If this is the case, if the essence of the camp consists in the materialization of the state of exception and in the consequent creation of a space for naked life as such, we will then have to admit to be facing a camp virtually every time that such a structure is created, regardless of the nature of the crimes committed in it and regardless of the denomination and specific topography it might have. The soccer stadium in Bari in which the Italian police temporarily herded Albanian illegal immigrants in 1991 before sending them back to their country, the cycle-racing track in which the Vichy authorities rounded up the Jews before handing them over to the Germans, the refugee camp near the Spanish border where Antonio Machado died in 1939, as well as the zones d'attente in French international airports in which foreigners requesting refugee status are detained will all have to be considered camps (p.42).

To these examples we might also include the Louisiana Superdome during Hurricane Katrina, the Itchioka PoW Camp during World War II, and the local baseball diamonds used as "designated protest zones" or "free speech areas" during political events, among hundreds of others. While these examples highlight the space itself as primary in structuring the biopolitical apparatus, Agamben elsewhere delves further into the relations that produce the subjectivities of the camp. In Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive, he writes of the Sonderkommando, a unique group of deportees "responsible for managing the gas chambers and crematoria," and who also occasionally played in soccer matches with the Nazi SS:

[Primo] Levi recalls that a witness, Miklos Nyszli, one of the very few who survived the last "special team" of Auschwitz, recounted that during a "work" break he took part in a soccer match between the SS and representatives of the Sonderkommando. "Other men of the SS and the rest of the squad are present at the game; they take sides, bet, applaud, urge the players on as if, rather than at the gates of hell, the game were taking place on the village green."

This match might strike someone as a brief pause of humanity in the middle of an infinite horror. I, like the witnesses, instead view this match, this moment of normalcy, as the true horror of the camp. For we can perhaps think that the massacres are over — even if here and there they are repeated, not so far away from us. But that match is never over; it continues as if uninterrupted. It is the perfect and eternal cipher of the "gray zone," which knows no time and is in every place (p.25).

What is of note about this gray zone is the space for the third that opens up within the play at hand, the zone of indistinction between guard and deportee on the soccer pitch. If the economic might of the television audience at home serves as the truth of the event for Sporting Empire and its actors in the Opening Ceremonies, do the spectators at the stadium and their complex integration into the spectacle exist in a similar gray zone or third space?

The witness

How do we understand witnessing and flesh resonance in such a gray zone? As Agamben continues in Remnants of Auschwitz:

From this perspective, the meaning of "witness" also becomes transparent, and the three terms that, in Latin, express the idea of testimony all acquire their characteristic physiognomy. If testis designates the witness insofar as he intervenes as a third in a suit between two subjects, and if superstes indicates the one who has fully lived through an experience and can therefore relate it to others, auctor signifies the witness insofar as his testimony always presupposes something — a fact, a thing, a word — that preexists him and whose reality and force must be validated or certified. … Testimony is thus always an act of an "author": it always implies an essential duality in which an insufficiency or incapacity is completed or made valid (p.150).

If what is being presented as the Opening Ceremonies is but the authored spectacular event par excellence, then this last aspect of testimony posited by Agamben becomes problematic for Sporting Empire. Too many authors spoil the text, we might say, or at least challenge its architectural claims to truth and thus the message must be modulated rather than wikified. Intellectual property is at risk, after all. And thus we may better understand the images projected upon those in attendance at Vancouver's Olympic Stadium: the latest technique by which Sporting Empire attempts to neutralize the authorial aspect of witnessing. Skins flayed open, each surgically stitched to the next, the naked life onto which an Olympic self-portrait is inscribed; zoe and the replication of interlocking rings, gesture turned inward from the screen, analog presence and its incomplete translation to the digital.

While the camp endures as a form in which the very issue of humanity is continually at stake, and thus always stands separate from an analysis of sport and its ludic political economy, we may certainly recognize in the stadium, as Agamben himself does, the camp-as-form that differentially constitutes biopolitical spaces everywhere. And yet this "differential" constitution begs the question of specificity. In the particular case of the Vancouver 2010 Opening Ceremonies, an event purportedly marked by its diversity — the bright colours of the Parade of Nations, in particular — obscures its very basis in uniformity: what is the specific mechanism that has most of the audience wearing a white poncho to complement those team uniforms marching in down below?

Why are the stadium spectators complicit? Is the requirement to wear the poncho contractually obligated as part of one's ticketed passage into the Opening Ceremonies? Or what about a different scenario, with a poncho strategically available on each chair that was optional to wear upon entering the building? What if one attempted to refuse but then someone else a few seats over strongly suggested that one was in fact expected to wear the garment? Who, precisely, would be "expecting" the poncho to be worn? The event organizers? The panoptic gaze? Or one's fellow assembled spectators?

Courtesy of CTVOlympics

Does one stand defiant in the face of this challenge? Does one refuse the soft program of the mass and explicitly call into question the figure of the spectator-witness? As the animal body is emptied out into the in the networked space of spectacle, does one reduce one's degree of exposure to alterity in order to contain the potential of contagion? In this gray zone, the zone of naked life and spectacular television programming, the zone in which presence trumps absence, the zone in which for the time being real referents still remain, one can only hope that Baudrillard's strategem of hyperconformity was intended as a clever ruse.

Pixel to Pellicule

Courtesy of agu2000_de at Flickr

If we are to give full consideration to Deleuze and Guattari's concept of the body without organs we cannot allow our analysis to remain simply in the domain of those organ systems responsible for intelligence (brain, networked server farm), circulation (heart, stock market), or filtration (kidney, casino). We must also consider the largest organ of them all, at least as far as humans are concerned: the skin, that surface which is folded and wrapped from the two-dimensional so as to enclose a particular volume.

The skin is part of the integumentary system, designed to protect the interior of the volume as well as regulate the exchange of flows through its enclosing membrane. It also has an expressive role that is bound in a nexus of power relations: whether we are discussing the human dermis, clothing and fashion, the social networking profile page, or the buildings of the city, the skin constitutes the primary locus of organization for the body situated in a system predicated upon the optic (as with identification), even if this optic is based in touch (as with inscription).

The integumentary system of our artificial living consists of a series of interconnected layers, from the subcutaneous, dermis and epidermis; to hair, nails, horn and pelt; to clothing and architecture; to that vast and mostly invisible network of communication protocols we call the internet. Indeed, as McLuhan suggests, "in the electric age we wear all mankind as our skin." But these layers do not sit neatly upon one another, sedimented in neat parallel striae; there is rather a slippage between layers, a series of foldings and touch points emerging from the integumentary movements and flows. Call it skin tectonics: the shifts and rumbles between various layers that may at times rupture or crack the "surface".

Courtesy of Aphex Twin + Chris Cunningham

aphex twin
come to daddy
1997
still from music video (dir. chris cunningham)

The disciplining of the sporting spectator during the 19th and 20th centuries (as outlined by Bale) serves to render this mass of individuals a temporary layer or component of the stadium architecture. When the spectators flowing into the stadium come to rest in their grid of seating coordinates, they form a layer of skin on top of the architecture of the building. They, too, comprise a part of its surface. The skins of the audience members present covering the architectural form of the stadium suggests a rejection of the anthropocentric view that all media are necessarily extensions of our human bodies, as with McLuhan. They appear instead to be remixable components of our always already living artificially. And as the stadium card stunt suggests, they are programmable components as well.

The disciplined spectator-body has a constrained set of opportunities for free movement in the x- and y-axes of the stadium's seats — the striated space that allows for the card stunt to function. One may traverse prescribed conduits of flow (eg. to concessions or lavatories), but expressive movement is certainly curtailed. Spectators are, however, able to move more expressively in the z-axis: rising to one's feet, jumping up and down, standing to offer an ovation. These are responses to some important moment on the field of play, though, responses to an event. What about embodied expression — understood as movement in the z-axis — during the interval between these moments of intense response?

This is the domain of the Wave, that collective audience gesture in which successive groups of spectators (understood vertically along the y-axis of the seating grid) briefly stand and raise their arms, slightly following in time those adjacent to them so as to achieve an oscillating wave that flows through the sports stadium. The Wave disguises itself as a blast whose shockwave ripples out from some epicenter and travels in circular fashion around the building, but each instance begins rather as a contagion, at least when catalyzed "spontaneously" by fans. This contagion has a two-fold function: first, to signify the beginning of what will ultimately become an asignifying multiplicity and communicate that information in a micro-relational sense to those in adjacent seats; and second, to introduce a vector of transmission for the gesture as it flips from contagion to blast — either clockwise or counterclockwise around the stadium.

(By way of contrast examine the micropolitics of stadium contagion when not transformed into the waveform blast rhythm, as with the chaos that was the Heysel Stadium disaster. Baudrillard suggests in The Transparency of Evil that Heysel confirms precisely "why the public must simply be eliminated, to ensure that the only event occurring is strictly televisual in nature. Every real referent must disappear so that the event may become acceptable on television's mental screen" [p.80].)

Although the exact origins of the Wave are uncertain — as if one could pinpoint the precise evolutionary moment that a meme "begins", particularly one that is gestural (unless of course it had been engineered in a laboratory) — its emergence can be located during the 1970s and 1980s, which is to say the era when the society of spectacle most fully realizes the analysis offered by Debord. Its relationship to the image, then, merits closer attention.

Courtesy of Vironevaeh at Flickr

Recall that the spectator becomes part of the skin of the stadium building — a stippling perhaps, or a texture map. While the Wave begins with the same logic of enclosure and partitioning that enables the pixelated card stunt, it breaks out of this visual field of resolution to undulate around the stadium: the screen refresh of the card stunt yields to an orbital revolution that is asignifying except as an expression of its own existence, the gesture as pure mediality (cf. Agamben).

Two interrelated problems confront the Wave, however, in any consideration of it as a collective (even if not consciously so) act of resistance against sporting capital and its disciplinary subject positions. The first involves the question of agency as it relates to each individual in the multiplicity of audience bodies that rise in waveform at the stadium. Antonia Hirsch's Vox Pop is illustrative in this regard. While the work expresses the uncanny nature of the Wave gesture when decontextualized from its normal collective formation, it also forces us to consider the opposite: What sort of agency does the individual have to refuse as the mass tide of movement comes bearing down?

Courtesy of Antonia Hirsch

antonia hirsch
vox pop
2008
still from 2-channel video installation

While the catalysis of the Wave's apparent spontaneity at one time belonged to certain highly identified fans, today it is just as likely to be started by stadium operations as part of the total spectacle. Agency is further compromised by the foldings of vision — lenses and screens, both organic and technic, that contribute to the discursive production of "good fan" subjectivity. Does this not already hint at a capture of the gestural deterritorialization into the z-axis? And is this not in a certain way the story of the control society: eliminating mandatory, top-down protocols when the micropolitics of local relation will accomplish many of the same goals? As Deleuze and Guattari propose, fascism "involves a war machine … [it] is constructed on an intense line of flight, which it transforms into a line of pure destruction and abolition" (ATP, p. 230). The volumetric line of the z-axis, the vectoral line of the waveform — both must answer to this line of questioning.

Which leads us to the second problem of the Wave as gestural micropolitics: the relationship between surfaces and volumes (a corporeal lacuna that haunts the thought of Flusser). While the Wave today is indeed an affair often deliberately coordinated by stadium personnel, it most certainly retains the possibility of being a purely positive expression triggered by an individual cluster of fans. But if we follow Agamben and Deleuze to understand that the element of cinema and the pellicule of film is gesture rather than image, then it must follow that the inverse is true as well: while it may indicate some other set of spatiotemporal coordinates, either indexically or otherwise, gesture as such remains ultimately bound by the skin.

Courtesy of David Cronenberg

david cronenberg
videodrome
1983
still from film

The myriad forms of perspectival gaze merely adjust their focal depth, so to speak, such that the integumentary function is lifted in relief to capture the Wave as but another surface phenomenon. Purely positive expression or no, the gesture of the Wave ceases to fulfill what Agamben would refer to as a means without ends — "the exhibition of the media character of corporal movements" — and becomes instead the finality without means that sustains this project of integrated representation. Put differently, the praxis of the wave-as-gesture is emptied of its political significance as it folds back into the produced pellicule of sporting spectacle.

Or is it? The gestural body is a moving body, and is thus always already a political one as well. The logic of skin tectonics suggests that such a moving body will never be fully captured by the tightness of its spectacular skin, for there will always be a slippage between integumentary layers. And it is this slippage that constitutes the contemporary zone of opportunity, of resistance, and of indifference.

Pixel

Card Stunt

The role of the spectator at large scale sporting events is one that has been examined sporadically in critical theory by the likes of Baudrillard, Virilio, Bourdieu, Barthes and others. And in the sport literature, much of the existing work emerges from John Bale and his investigations of the spaces and sites of sporting competition. But one facet of spectator involvement that I do not remember receiving much attention in either domain has to do with the large-scale communication productions involving the spectators themselves holding up sheets of coloured paper to produce some image viewable from a remote perspective. Known as "card stunts," these productions are the spectacular outcome of Bale's developmental model of the modern stadium: each seat equidistant from the next in a neat disciplinary grid of rows and columns that is then conscripted to produce subcomponents of the final pictorial message (see example here).

STAGES

ENVIRONMENT

PERMEABLE BOUNDARIES
WEAK RULES OF EXCLUSION

No spatial limits; uneven terrain; spatial interaction between "players" and "spectators"; diversified land use.

ENCLOSURE

Limits of pitch defined; players segregated from spectators.

PARTITIONING

Embankments, terraces, grandstands; payment for entry; segregation of spectators by social class; start of segregation within crowd; specialized land use.

SURVEILLANCE

Enclosed ground; synthetic pitch and concrete bowl; TV replay screen; total segregation within crowd; panopticism; diversified land use.

RULES OF EXCLUSION STRONG
IMPERMEABLE BOUNDARIES

a four-stage model of the evolution of the modern stadium.
lines refer to possible freedoms of movement for players and spectators.
(from bale, 1993)

In viewing the card stunt unfolding at the stadium one immediately thinks of both Pointillism and its eventual transition to the field of picture elements, or pixels. Indeed, Seurat's famous Un dimanche après-midi à l'Île de la Grande Jatte - 1884 could be understood in terms analogous to the card stunt: an orthogonal view of "non-partitioned spectators" becoming abstracted into coloured points of representation as they watch the leisured pursuits (rowing, sailing) unfold along the river.

Courtesy of Georges Seurat

georges-pierre seurat
un dimanche après-midi à l'île de la grande jatte - 1884
1884-1886
oil on canvas

Paul Virilio appears to be following a similar trajectory in his analysis of twentieth-century media technology. In The Information Bomb he notes:

Extending the dislocation of the figure, which we saw at the beginning of the twentieth century with Cubism, and its disappearance into forms of abstraction, geometric or otherwise, de-localization — the product of the age of the virtual — leads today to an art of interactive feedback between the artist and his/her visitors, along the lines of those infographic paintings which change and metamorphose as you contemplate them, doing so from the particular viewpoint of each of the actors/spectators. Moreover, the decomposition of figures in Pointillism or Divisionism leads today, thanks to fractal geometry, to another type of deconstruction: the dismantling of the space-time of the work.

In the age of the sudden electronic motorization of the artwork, dislocation of forms and de-localization of the art object go hand in hand and accompany the acceleration not in this case of history, but of the reality of the plastic arts. This represents, on the one hand, a questioning of the roles of actor and spectator, and, on the other, an interrogation of the notions of author and viewer. And it is a calling into question of the site of art, after the questioning of the site of the theatrical scene. These are all so many harbingers of an unprecedented change — premonitory signs of the new time scheme within which culture will operate in the era of the emergence of cyberculture (p. 129).

Interestingly, the card stunt predates the personal computer revolution of the 1970s-90s, and thus the popular introduction of computer monitors and pixel resolution from the world of corporate industry and into the home. Instead we must go back earlier, through the era of the Rubik's Cube, through the era of mainframes and computer punch cards, through the era of split-flap displays on clocks and train departure boards, to locate the card stunt in American college football as early as 1910.

In other words, the card stunt predates the introduction of televised sports and therefore must be considered a message system with an audience different from that of the TV spectator at home: it was originally designed for those players, coaches and fans who were present at the stadium. But once the football stadium is connected to the broader apparatus of television and sponsorship capital (and eventually to the jumbotron screen), the problematics of signal production are opened to newly consider the intensified subroutine loop of screen and subject relation.

Courtesy of Sports Illustrated

One requires three elements for a card stunt to function successfully: the dissemination of a program code beforehand (the paper handout of instructions stating which card to display at what time); a set grid of stadium seats (the field of resolution) for visual output; and the activation of the program through a coded routine of command prompts.

Of course, the direct human agency involved to trigger the commands and activate the card stunt emerges as a fourth required element to follow the first three, which during the history of college football is a responsibility that has fallen to the cheerleading corps. Given the gendered histories of cheerleading in football, we might inquire into the specific ways that women were involved with triggering these program activation commands. It seems not a stretch to read the figure of the card stunt leader in resonance with both Kittler's figure of the typist and Ronell's figure of the switchboard operator — that is, one (woman) who can both inscribe a new flow of coded data as well as one who can connect an existing flow-in-potential, suggesting further that the history of technotext is always already a feminist one.

Further, if we continue to follow our suggestion that football models the American military-industrial complex in a sort of evolutionary version of chess, then these cheerleading women appear early on to play an important role in coordinating messages of support from the home front to the battle lines. But they are coded messages, and as such are susceptible to being intercepted or hacked by the enemy. This is precisely what occurred in the "Great Rose Bowl Hoax" of 1961: supporters of the California Institute of Technology, frustrated by a lack of visibility relative to Washington, their more famous opponent, pulled a prank in which the coded instructions were switched so that the visual output from the Washington fans ultimately communicated a very different message than the one originally intended.

Great Rose Bowl Hoax

If we can locate the card stunt at the modern stadium as a genealogical precursor to the pixelated bitmap computer display, we might consider the increasingly cramped seat and leg room at the contemporary stadium, then, as both an intensification of its capital productivity and a process toward becoming more high resolution. All surfaces become screens, it appears. And as Agamben notes, following Deleuze, the age of the cinema is also the age of a generalized catastrophe of gestures. If that is the case, can we flip the question of embodiment experienced by the increasingly cramped stadium spectator and ask: what implications do high resolution screen displays have for the human body watching at home today?