urban gait surfing

a body-subject.
a subway station, shopping mall, stadium concourse.
crowd surfing through public space, vertically rather than horizontally as at a rock concert.

a memetic splice of parkour that constitutes a "performative critique" (cf. borden) of the moving bodies along an urban conduit.

Gait Surfing

the foldings of kinesis within a particular taxis.

finding smooth space within gait surveillance and the fluxes of the striated.
finding a shifting temporality of the several within a flow of multiplicity (cf. ettinger).

deleuze and guattari weren't totally correct: it is not necessarily about entering into an existing energetic system in and of itself, as much as it is riding the turbulent, frothy edge between signal and becoming-noise. in the case of gait surfing, there is an entering into the energetic system of the flow of pedestrian traffic, but this traffic is itself produced by the muscular energies of the individual body. we are still exerting a force within the striations of the urban environment: that is, the biomechanical leveraging of the musculoskeletal system towards a particular linear vector of production. but when examined intensively, this linear flow-in-theory has different internal paces, rhythms, deviations from normal gaits, errors, noise, speeds, purposes and objectives, cultural histories — and indeed, an entire erotics in its relationality to the unfoldings of the several.

it is these anomalies that constitute the minor perturbations in a flow that may thereafter become chaotic attractors and create turbulence (cf. delanda). we find in the aggregate from these perturbations in bodily locomotive style the corporeal jetwash or break point between signal and becoming-noise of the urban gait surfer.

mixtape of instrumental music. shared playlist, personal music player. match the music to the motion. an aesthetic headphone science. a psychogeographical hybrid of surfing logic and audio walking tour.

haptic as intersection between vision, touch and proprioception.
haptic as intersection of vibrations between audio and body.

as an urban pedagogy of the body we "consciously" become aware of our virtuality and virtuosity as practice and praxis: reflexively before and after, and affectively while surfing the wave.

Embodiment and Exaggeration

The Matrix was half-right in its metaphor: though the relationship is symbiotic, we are not producing electricity for the Machine but are rather producing — through activities such as fantasy sports, online casinos and internet stock trading — a non-rational agency for the Machine that pulses information forward and backward as a continual, rhythmic flow. (The fact that both electricity and information are representable by the zeroes and ones of binary code is, however, not insignificant.) This collective intelligence is known as "the market" and is the basis of the information age of capitalism.

Or, as DeLanda suggests: "We might just be insects pollinating machines that do not happen to have their own reproductive organs right now."

But as much as anything, sport provides a reminder that embodied, serial labour is not dead in this emerging information age of capitalism. The vectors of archive and telesthesia are layered on top of the embodied capital production that manufactures its information. Though salaries are indeed inflated well beyond the relative earnings of most other classes of worker due to the attendent celebrity spectacle so entwined with the volumetric diagram of biopolitical production, we should understand that professional and quasi-professional "amateur" sport provides an excellent laboratory through which to examine the dynamics of material and immaterial labour precisely because of this exaggerated formal structure.

language, flows, synergy

On August 12 sportsBabel visited the HomeShop series one: GAMES 2008 critical art space for an interview with project creator and host Elaine Ho. An artist and designer living in Beijing and working throughout the network, Elaine is theoretically interested in public and private space as it intersects with issues of bodies and human subjects, identities, communities, politics and a changing China. These interests continually inform her aesthetic practices in art and design, which in turn flow back and provide her new opportunities for critical engagement at the level of the lived everyday.

Courtesy of iwishicoulddescribeittoyoubetter

Given our varied cultural histories and fragmented identities, our mutual theoretical interests, and our different backgrounds in sport and aesthetics, a very nice synergy developed between the two of us during the interview that allowed me to articulate and clarify in language many ideas which have been gestating for some time at the level of affect and thought and which will prove fruitful as they flow back into my own critical engagements. Our conversation was challenging yet rewarding and only scratched the surface of possibility for any future encounter.

The interview in its entirety — 13?: sports, panhapticism, geopolitics — may be found at Elaine's HomeShop project web site.

track listing

introduction, sport and media | 7'49

sport and media, aesthetics, politics, militarization of sport, temporality and sport, human body, affect, coming to china, the most significant sporting event in human history, trying a blog

blogging | 16'30

on blogging, mediatized environment, "how fucking arrogant was that", teaching a class on olympics history, deleuze & guattari, uneven writing, noise to signal, experience to output

singularity | 10'02

the last olympics, chad scoville, refuting a media singularity, citius altius fortius, pure body, "concomitant rise of a new china", opening ceremonies

semiotic | 9'17

9/11, virilio's "information bomb", framing the event, weapons, semiotic warfare

panoptic and panhaptic | 21'13

panoptic surveillance, panhaptic computer networks, striated and smooth spaces, models of human behaviour, control society, "one world, one dream", spectacle of a new beijing, foucault's panopticon, open flows, "the population is just too big", broken protocol, spatial scalability, disciplinary space challenged by the speed of a flow, deleuze & guattari, navigation of an intelligent nomad, never a revolution, people like the system, the "communism of capitalism" (virno), "i think china's pretty comfortable where it is right now"

control, gaps, noises, cracks | 8'04

kòngzhì, manuel delanda's "a thousand years of non-linear history", molecular to macro, hierarchies and meshworks, gaps and noises and cracks

homeshop | 18'11

public space and private space, permeable membrane, blurring the boundaries, the binary, the third space, the interloper, "what are you trying to say with this?"


The HomeShop Games 2008 project is the first in a series of community-based investigations of art practices, Beijing, networked spaces and the home. The space is open daily by appointment throughout the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

Critical Space

The Chicago Pile-1 was Enrico Fermi's first successful attempt to achieve a critical nuclear reaction, which occurred in 1942 in a squash court underneath the Stagg Stadium bleachers at the University of Chicago. The squash court was the only place on campus with thick enough walls and a sufficiently elevated ceiling to house the pile of graphite bricks and wooden timbers that constituted the first nuclear reactor. Thus, the nuclear bomb arguably owes its genesis to a sporting space.

Chicago Pile-1

Chicago Pile-1

But a sort of inverse is true as well. The nuclear bomb has had an undeniable genealogical impact on sporting spaces and bodies, from the doping wars of Cold War sport to the contemporary climate of electronic surveillance. To a degree, these have become opposing forces: on the one hand, doping has persisted beyond the earlier impetus of nation-state governments during the Cold War to a network of individual athletes, coaches and scientists who push the biochemical and physiological limits of the body in competition, while on the other hand the same technological infrastructure (both material and immaterial) that enabled a stable communications network in the case of a nuclear attack, Cold War surveillance and the rise of intelligent machines (DeLanda) is today leveraged by the World Anti-Doping Agency in the global surveillance of world-class, high-performance athletes.

"The critical State, or, better, the Critical Space … becomes critical by virtue of the instantaneity of means of mass communication as much as through the performances of delivery vectors of massive destruction. … The function of the eye becomes simultaneously that of the arm" (Virilio, The Lost Dimension, p.130).

Michael Jordan, Inc.: A Pro Forma Statement

"It's not about the shoes."

It's not about the shoes, but at the same time it is about the shoes.

Though Michael Jordan and his shoes are likely the most mediated athlete-technology hybrid in history, very little of his appearance as text has been of the critical sort. One notable exception is Michael Jordan, Inc.: Corporate Sport, Media Culture, and Late Modern America, a collection of essays edited by David Andrews, the head of the Physical Cultural Studies program at the University of Maryland. The volume represents the work of many well-respected scholars in critical sports studies as well as contributions from cognate disciplines by luminaries such as Norman Denzin, Douglas Kellner, and Michael Eric Dyson.

"It's about knowing where you're going."

The book explores the social, economic, political, and technological issues surrounding Jordan and his corporate relationships (Chicago Bulls, NBA, Nike and Gatorade, etc.) and their effects on American and global cultures. While one cannot say that Jordan ushered in the age of what we currently understand as globalization, nor that globalizing processes "made" Jordan, it can safely be stated that a trialectic relationship between sport (MJ, Bulls, NBA, Dream Team), media companies, and corporate sponsors (notably Nike) assembled in a perfect storm (what Manuel DeLanda might consider a chaotic attractor in social non-linear dynamics) to exponentially accelerate the Jordan Effect to planetary proportions.

"Not forgetting where you started."

While Jordan the basketball phenom arguably arrived when he hit the winning jumpshot in the 1982 NCAA championship game, Jordan the postmodern spectacle arrived (or took off?) with the television ad campaigns to introduce his new, personalized Nike basketball shoe. Playing prophet to the coming phenomenon of Jordan was Spike Lee as the character Mars Blackmon, who uttered the immortal phrase of the consumerist 1980s: "Money, it's gotta be the shoes!"

Thus was launched the trajectory of Air Jordan.

"It's about having the courage to fail."

Though Michael Jordan, Inc. covers a wide swath in its many contributions, I would like to briefly discuss a topic that might be considered a coda to the original collection or perhaps a pro forma look at a future beyond the temporal bounds of the book's subject matter — specifically concerning the materialities of athletic body and media representation and how these flows intersect with the immateriality of data networks.

The vast potential and primary problem with sign value creation in the sport-media-sponsor trialectic mentioned earlier is that it is fundamentally rooted in the body athletic — in the body's ability to move through space rhythmically with teammates and competitors, to manufacture positive outcomes from routine sets and plays, and to hack creative possibilities from the continual unfoldings of these positive outcomes. The body is vectoralism's greatest strength and greatest weakness.

"Not breaking when you're broken."

But the body ages. It is organic. It wrinkles and withers and grays and slows and expires and decomposes. For an athlete, muscles become less elastic, bones more brittle, joints less lubricated, and metabolism less able to burn lipids.

Michael Jordan's body ages, despite the spectacle that precedes him, produces him, and perpetuates him. And while the creative hacks of the body athletic are not the only way to generate sign value in the sportocratic economy, Jordan's ability to do just that was bound to organically decline.

"Taking everything you've been given … and making something better."

Couretesy of MJ to the Max/NBAThis is not to say that the machinations of spectacle haven't attempted to arrest the aging process. A growing repository of images and information can be continually recombined to provide the illusion of youth. And media materialities that allow for space and time axis manipulation may be leveraged to this end as well.

Indeed, one need only look back to the 360-degree mocap recreation of Jordan's famous foul line dunk in Michael Jordan to the Max to see how material, embodied performance can be spatiotemporally dilated for spectacular purpose. While Jordan was too old at the time of the movie's production to dunk spread-eagled from the foul line, particularly with as much ease as the final cut shows, greenscreen techniques and clever 3-D computer animation slowed down the sands of metabolic time.

"It's about work … before glory."

But while the usefulness of a body may be prolonged for the creation of sign value, a limit is eventually reached after which new sign value must be created with the same body in other ways (nostalgia) or else a new body is required. With Nike, we witness a steady trend of working the corporeal Jordan out of the sign value creation process.

Recall the campaign a little over four years ago that featured Carmelo Anthony, Derek Jeter and Warren Sapp — Jordan's student, designated hitter, and alter ego, respectively. Resample: "As MJ's flesh becomes weak, no longer available to produce meaning for Nike and its image-signs, the distilled essence of his excellence — his aura, that invisible Air of Jordan — transcends the body and morphs or transmogrifies into the bodies of his disciples."

"I am not Michael Jordan," they chorused, even though they had become Him.

"And what's inside of you."

Two years later, the "2nd Generation" campaign would feature video footage of young basketball players replicating the signature moves (creative hacks) from Jordan's career. This was possible because the DNA of Jordan — or more correctly, his memes rather than his genes — had seeped into the network and emerged as the fittest for survival.

The implied message in both of these texts was a liberation for Nike (and its consumers) from the shackles of Jordan's fleshy prison. Become light!

Or, at minimum, add to the product life cycle and the unit life cycle a mean time before failure for the athletic motor of sign value creation.

"It's doing what they say you can't."

An important component to this erasure of the corporeal Jordan is that sponsorship through the Jordan Brand is spread across many different sports. Basketball, baseball, gridiron football, and boxing, which constitute to a large degree the entire history of sport in modern America (and its attendant racial history), are dissolved in a postmodern moment of sport as engine for the new vectoral order of intellectual property production and consumption (with race, as Andrews points out, becoming a "floating racial signifier").

This erasure of the corporeal Jordan continues in the latest major Nike campaign, "Become Legendary". The feature ad spot is fascinating in that the 60-second commercial is composed almost exclusively of old amateur video footage of current Jordan Brand athletes. There are two minor exceptions: first, a shot of a contemplative Ray Allen in his new Celtics uniform at the beginning of the spot; and second, a still photo of Chris Paul in his Hornets uniform, which needed to be established because the archival footage used for him was of such poor quality, although the backstory behind the video — Paul scoring 61 points after his grandfather, with whom he was close, passed away at age 61 — was of such high value that the video ought to be included.

These two contemporary exceptions notwithstanding, it is the archive that ironically provides the vector of erasure.

"It's not about the shoes."

For a generation cynical about the tacit promises made in the 1980s and 1990s, namely, that shoe consumption would grant one equivalent talents to those of the star endorser, "It's not about the shoes. It's about what you do in them" turns the responsibility back to the consumer. Arguably, not one of the athletes in the "Becoming Legendary" spot — Ray Allen, Derek Jeter, Chris Paul, Terrell Owens, Andre Ward, Richard Hamilton, Joe Johnson, Marvin Harrison, and Carmelo Anthony — would be considered freakish athletes by the standards of professional sport, but rather those who took moderate athletic gifts and maximized them through hard work.

"It's about what you do in them."

That said, the clause "in them" provides a reminder that even though responsibility has been turned back to the consumer, one's chances in competition certainly improve if sporting a pair of Nikes. So we have a historical referent — Mars Blackmon imploring that it's gotta be the shoes — that serves not only as the entry point to situate this level of the contemporary assemblage but simultaneously as the departure point from which to negate that historical position. We have a reversal of implied obligation from producer to consumer. And, though the erasure of the corporeal Jordan is almost complete, Nike never has to compromise the original message, which is to buy the shoes.

"It's about being who you were born to be."

The scratchy and grainy original home video footage and the editing that reinforces this particular material condition of production — what N. Katherine Hayles would refer to as a "technotext", a text that foregrounds the inscription technology used to produce it — is consonant with a generation that has spent its entire life on camera — in photos, videos, home movies, webcams, cell phones, etc. That there exists video footage of these professional athletes as teens and that clips have been detached from these archival texts to be remixed into a new assemblage paid for by a transnational corporate sponsor does not seem to this generation at all unusual.

Today's youth are used to cutting, pasting, sampling — of disassembling and reassembling other — as their central mode of communication and, dare we say, overarching ontology. And in this commercial, we witness evidence of a reversal from industrial capitalism: while the mining of metals ultimately provided the infrastructural base for industrial manufacture, the post-industrial manufacture of spectacle and its concomitant commodity marketing ultimately provide the basis for the mining of data archives from which sign values may be extracted — presumably at lower marginal cost to the manufacturer — and then assembled anew.


This is not the only mining that will take place, however, and here we may examine more closely the pro forma portion of this corporate outlook. Though the technology and techniques are still in their relative infancy, we should extrapolate somewhat to vision where the emergent ubiquity of online communication takes us.

It is not a significant leap to suggest that vast databases of photo and video imagery combined with the facial recognition technology blossoming in security applications will be used by Nike and others to identify new motors of sign value production in a hybrid of spectaclesimulationsurveillance. Scan for the swoosh, process through neural network analysis, and the future robot historian will identify Jordan by a few degrees of separation as one of the most powerful nodes in the history of netspace.

In the process of becoming legendary, this is how a posthuman religion is born.

Chess, Language, Gender and Power

As discussed earlier regarding the archivization of chess movements, we view a gradual shift over 400 years from a formal old English means of documenting games to a descriptive chess notation, a form of information compression that leverages the striating architecture of the chessboard and representational alphanumerics to convey much the same information in a far more economical fashion. To refresh:

1614: The white king commands his owne knight into the third house before his owne bishop.
1750: K. knight to His Bishop's 3d.
1837: K.Kt. to B.third sq.
1848: K.Kt. to B's 3rd.
1859: K. Kt. to B. 3d.
1874: K Kt to B3
1889: KKt-B3
1904: Kt-KB3
1946: N-KB3

Today, most of the chess world has standardized on the even more compact algebraic notation, which would render the above example as "Nf3". There has clearly been a shift away from a more elegant, ornamental prose account of the action to a radically compressed form of information, in which alphanumeric characters describe the essential components of the movement in question. In descriptive notation, action is archived using the rank of the piece in question and its final resting place on the grid, spatially relative to the King or Queen pieces (ie. N-KB3 means "knight moves to the third rank in front of the bishop on the King’s side of the board"). In the even more compact algebraic notation, on the other hand, a move is recorded using the rank of the piece in question and the grid coordinates of the final resting space (ie. Nf3 means "knight moves to the f3 square on the chessboard grid").

This evolution notwithstanding, the goal, two-fold in nature, remains the same: precisely track movements in space and time during a contest and, in doing so, create an archive of those movements. "f3" is strictly a spatial referent and "Nf3" is a movement tracked in space and time, archived with an economy of language to complement the economy of movement that Foucault analyzed so well in other spaces of disciplinary power — factory, school, hospital, barracks, prison.

In the context of gender and power, however, the consequences of this evolution are not trivial.

In Birth of the Chess Queen, Yalom makes a very convincing argument that the queen becomes the most powerful piece on the chessboard due to the rise of queens as essential figures in the courts of medieval Europe. Other historians suggest the rise of long distance battlefield artillery as providing the cultural impetus for such a shift in the game. Likely it's a combination of both factors. As the archiving language of chess compresses over the past four centuries, the way that gender and power referents are written into the archive has changed considerably. Where once there was a King and Queen, now there is only a K or a Q. And the archiving of the King who owns a particular spot on the board — or another piece that is coded in relation to the King — is reduced to simple inscribed alphanumeric grid coordinates.

In other words, while the underlying power structures represented and embedded in the model of chess — particularly the complex gender relations between King and Queen that emerged in the medieval European version of the game — have remained reasonably unchanged during the last 400 years, the language used to archive the game has inexorably been stripped of gender and power referents — data frugality eliminates the possibility for "commands," "owne," and "His."

According to Kittler, since 1880 "literature no longer has been able to write for girls, simply because girls themselves write" (GFT, p. 174). He doesn't mean here that women had written themselves into being, as the French feminist thinker Hélène Cixous wishes, but that in joining the second industrial wave as office stenographers and typists women were thrust into the mechanics of writing as a livelihood. It is no coincidence that the information compression of the chess archive approaches its limit around the same time that the typewriter/woman machine emerges in industrial society. Kittler continues: "The typewriter cannot conjure up anything imaginary, as can cinema; it cannot simulate the real, as can sound recording; it only inverts the gender of writing. In so doing, however, it inverts the material basis of literature" (GFT, p. 183). In the context of our chess discussion, we are left with the question of how to read this inversion of writing and gender and the emerging immateriality of the textual archive as the discrete alphanumerics of the typewriter sublimate into computerized data networks.

Two interpretations suggest themselves. Optimistically, the computer-human symbiosis facilitates (qua Haraway) a form of post-gender relations. While we shouldn't look at these acronyms ahistorically — clearly they have deep, meaningful gender histories — in the contemporary moment we can read in the simple alphanumeric signifier of K or Q an absence of gender. For all intents and purposes, the language of the modern chess archive becomes blind to gender and power referents; objects are visioned, mapped and archived in space and time and with each discrete movement thereafter plotted anew. The gender and power referents that are imbued in the game very early on disappear in the creation, maintenance and modernization of the chess archive. When the computer reads these alphanumeric characters in the archiving and transmission of the game, the simulation of the game, and even the playing of the game against human opponents, it is blind to gender and power as it has no sense of this historical tradition.

On the other hand, what if computers and computer networks are fashioned in a combination of hierarchy and meshwork (cf. DeLanda) that reproduces existing gender/power structures, and the computer disregards gender and power relations as in the first scenario? This ahistoric understanding by the computer is perhaps doubly dangerous in that there is a social mindset created of post-gender normativity despite a structural reality that suggests otherwise.