Happy Mother's Day


[03/05/2009 1:58:39 PM]

sportsbabel says: please say thanks to your mom……!
sportsbabel says: you are our relation……
sportsbabel says: (smiley)

[03/05/2009 1:58:55 PM]

Perception and the State

NASSS 2008: Hybrid Bodies and Social Change in Popular Culture

"One of the fundamental tasks of the State is to striate the space over which it reigns, or to utilize smooth spaces as a means of communication in the service of striated space. It is a vital concern of every State not only to vanquish nomadism but to control migrations and, more generally, to establish a zone of rights over an entire "exterior," over all of the flows traversing the ecumenon. If it can help it, the State does not dissociate itself from a process of capture of flows of all kinds, populations, commodities or commerce, money or capital, etc. There is still a need for fixed paths in well-defined directions, which restrict speed, regulate circulation, relativize movement, and measure in detail the relative movements of subjects and objects." — Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p.385

Volumetric Striation and the Tactile Burden of Severality

Saas-Fee Slide - Courtesy D ROX Productions

(abstract submitted to a themed session entitled "hybrid bodies and social change in popular culture" to be held at the 2008 north american society for sport sociology conference)

In What is Philosophy?, Deleuze and Guattari suggest that the philosopher might borrow from the percepts and affects created by the artist as a means for the positive creation of new concepts in thought. Towards such an end, this paper retrospectively traces the work of the British sculptor Antony Gormley to examine the emergence of a human body that has become dematerialized into myriad forms and explores the multiple subjectivities such a physical fragmentation of the body implies. In turn, we examine both the political response of the State as its control of such bodies moves beyond the striated spaces of enclosure to fluid, smooth space, as well as the mechanisms of mediation in sport that contribute to this control, both technically and discursively. Finally, Gormley's most recent work suggests an embodied tactility and severality as a means of resistance for the subject that stands counter to this new striation of the body. With theoretical contributions from Deleuze and Guattari, Virilio, Massumi and Ettinger, we situate and conceptualize both the new striation of the body-object in smooth space (a volumetric striation) and the potential nomadic response of severality as a complex interplay of moving bodies, flexible subjectivities and haptic perception.

Volumetric Striation

<!–a series on antony gormley and the origin of "tactile burden", in no particular order–>

Feeling Material - Courtesy of Antony Gormley
Feeling Material VI
Antony Gormley

When Antony Gormley made his presentation at EGS I was struck by an apparent dematerialization of the human body in his work over a period of twenty-five years. The first two works I want to describe here were catalysts for me in "putting it all together", so to speak, as I had never really considered myself someone who critically appreciated or even liked sculpture.

But Feeling Material really spoke to me: for Gormley the project was an attempt to "make the internal space of the body visible as a void … as a still place at the centre of a spiraling energy field," and I could really see a body coming to terms with its relationship to an omnipresent world of electricity and information networks.

The body as producer and consumer of information: while interacting with other bodies in material space it also extends beyond the skin into data networks to interact with other, virtual, bodies. But even in the dematerialized state it is continually presented with the material.

Hence I was intrigued to see the next work in his presentation, Clearing, in which the energy of the body finally sheds its fixity in space and expands to fill the entire container of the room as if a liquid.

Clearing - Courtesy of Antony Gormley
Clearing IV
Antony Gormley

Of Clearing, Antony Gormley writes:

I was trying to destroy the fixed co-ordinates of a room and make a space/ time continuum (a line without end) that was both a thing and a drawing. … This installation acts as a kind of vector field, encouraging the viewer to move through its structure, and in so doing, disrupts the authority of a single-point perspective, necessitating instead a constant renegotiation of the visual field.

If one were to read Gormley's words through a Deleuzian lens, it seems that he seeks to find a smooth space within the rigid enclosure of the room's cuboid structure. The purpose of striating space is to effect a rational logic and constrain the movement and speed of bodies; political docility and productive, economic efficiency and utility. But smooth space presents a challenge to this desired effect of the State, and so there arises a secondary desire: to invert the exterior striation that constrains the body's movement so that it becomes a general striation of the body itself. As mentioned already, this concerns the flows within the body, as with the visioning that occurs in the case of doping and the determination of a "normal" athletic body. But it also serves increasingly to track the body and its contours in an open, fluid space that resists an easy fixed optical perspective necessary for striation. Instead of an optic gaze, we turn to a haptic solution.

As Deleuze illustrates in "Postscript on the Societies of Control," discipline functioned as a series of discrete spaces linked in a process of analogy: the prison was like the factory, which was like the school, and so on. Each space is coded in a fashion related to its striation; the code provides the technique for the striation to take place. With the flowing smoothness of control — the space of continuous modulation — what provides the coding for political control to take place? In the absence of analogy, what is the constant as we move from one environment to the next, in and out of enclosures and boundaries, traversing the passage from real to virtual and back, flowing with migrations great and small as they vector across the planet? The constant code is the code of the body: its internal chemical composition; its fingerprint swipe, retinal scan and DNA profile; its form in a digitized negative space.

Shift V - Courtesy of Antony Gormley Bubble Matrix - Courtesy of Antony Gormley
Shift V
Antony Gormley
Bubble Matrix (vertical swimming pose)
Antony Gormley

Consequently, we might read two of Gormley's later sculptures that fashion the human body in negative space, Shift V and Bubble Matrix, as aesthetic precursors to a political concept that we shall label volumetric striation. This volumetric striation is the capture of the human body in a three-dimensional grid-like form (wireframe), such as what occurs with a motion capture video apparatus. Because of the irregular form of the human body, this striation is not a perfectly rational tesselation of congruent squares covering a plane with horizontal and vertical coordinates, as we see with other striated grid spaces. Instead, it is a connected set of irregularly-shaped polygons covering the surface of a three-dimensional solid form, with the connections dependent on where the nodal points of light have been located on the body. Given the technological constraints of motion capture systems right now, it is not a tight striation that is effected, though it is getting tighter as the technology both improves and lowers its unit cost.

Baudrillard - Screened OutOut of technological necessity, volumetric striation in sporting contexts — for example, with motion capture systems that record player movements to be used in sports videogames — is still reliant upon a referential planar striation, the disciplinary sporting enclosure derived from Foucault in the work of Eichberg, Bale, Shogan and others. We are, however, starting to move away from this relation of dependence. With Michael Jordan's "bullet time" dunk we simulate high-speed photography using a circular arrangement of cameras and synthesize a volumetric form from the collection of produced images. Similarly, ProZone uses many cameras in conjunction with a rectangular soccer pitch to track bodies in smooth space. Finally, the EyeToy captures representation volumetrically using light contrasts before embedding the virtual body in a videogame space.

In other words, it appears that the process of striating the body volumetrically may be detached from the planar striation of the enclosed grid in material space (though it will still continue to be attached to a planar striation of the tabular database form). If Gormley seeks to undermine "the authority of a single-point perspective, necessitating instead a constant renegotiation of the visual field," then "State" politics must also eschew the authority of a single-point perspective in response. As the sporting examples above suggest, connected networks of CCTV cameras used for surveillance purposes, though irregularly distributed throughout cities, may be able to effect a volumetric striation of human bodies in large, open spaces as a technique of panhaptically leveraged control.

Motion capture: Model a subject on the lam in three dimensions. Toggle between first- and third-person perspectives. Simulate likely alternatives. Capture motion.

It is not groundbreaking to recognize that the higher the resolution of such a three-dimensional model, the closer we get to a representation of the "real" human body. Ideally, if we could get a polygonal resolution to the granularity of a skin cell, you would have a "perfect" representation from a visual perspective. But what is important with Gormley's work in Shift V and Bubble Matrix, in my opinion, is that he shows how faithfully one can represent the human form with a minimal number of interconnected polygons. Put in political terms, it seems that he is illustrating how relatively low-resolution the volumetric striation need be in a networked open space to have dramatic consequences for the body being imaged.

The same might currently be said of sports videogames and other communication forms of their ilk. Should we consider the sports-media complex, then, to be part of a larger assemblage we might call the sports-media-control complex?

Blind Light (2007)

<!–a series on antony gormley and the origin of "tactile burden", in no particular order–>

I have already discussed two of Gormley's pieces that explicitly concern optic vision in general and the surveillant gaze in particular. Certainly, given my own research interests, this contributes to my favouring these specific works for review. But it is the next work I wish to examine that provided the eureka moment for me in terms of conceptualizing the idea of tactile burden, and it arises not due to the absence of vision, but rather light/vision amplified to such a point that it renders (nearly) sightless.

Consider two poles of blindness. One involves the absence of light and the consequent darkness that renders one incapable of seeing. The other involves the total intensification of light on the retinal receptors such that one is blinded by the sheer intensity of the light and has a visceral reaction, which forces closure of the eyes to get relief from the pain (as when looking at a sunny sky after being in a dark room). In Blind Light, Gormley finds a third way between these two poles of blindness by creating a pain-free immersive environment of lightness that becomes a de facto visible sightlessness.

Antony Gormley - Blind Light

Blind Light is essentially a glass box that has been filled with thick vapour and brightly lit with fluorescent light. The glass walls are reinforced so that atmospheric pressure can be increased to one and a half times normal levels. While this makes the air within slightly more thick and tangible, it avoids becoming excessively warm since heat is being wicked out by a venting system, leaving the environment within eerily cool. You are left to wander in the pitch white of the box.

As Gormley himself describes:

Architecture is supposed to be the location of security and certainty about where you are. It is supposed to protect you from the weather, from darkness, from uncertainty. Blind Light undermines all of that. You enter his interior space that is the equivalent of being on top of a mountain or at the bottom of the sea. It is very important for me that inside it you find the outside. Also you become the immersed figure in an endless ground, literally the subject of the work.

When I entered the space, the first thing I noticed is that it wasn't as "heavy" as I'd anticipated, but this was probably due to my preconceived understanding that the atmospheric pressure would be slightly higher than normal; in fact, the environment was slightly thicker. Though my eyes were fully open, the space in front of me was pitch white, so sound assumed new importance. I became attentive to the playful voices of others enjoying the space, which alerted me to their position long before my visual faculty could confirm. But perhaps the most interesting aspect of my time inside was the oily residue on my eyeballs I came to notice: was this a film from the thick vapour in the room or was it instead the normal atmospheric detritus of urban society, only now made apparent in the pitch whiteness of Blind Light? I do not know.

Antony Gormley - Blind Light

So why was I so excited when I saw this piece during Gormley's presentation at EGS? From his early lead bodycase works, through his Domain series, to his Feeling Material series, I witnessed what I perceived to be an increasing dematerialization of the body into the information and data networks that bind the multitude of human bodies together. I have discussed such a dematerialization or outering into the data networks for several years here at sportsBabel, a sample of which I include here:

So, if artists are the antennae of society, detecting problems and shifts and articulating them through their work to the rest of us, then what was next, I wondered. Was there a potential way out, so to speak, for the dematerializing body?

During Gormley's presentation at EGS, Blind Light was the answer.

Theoretically, we might usefully contrast Blind Light with Virilio's concept of the "vision machine." While Virilio's vision machine is a networked collection of cameras, databases and tracking algorithms that is visually impotent in the classical sense, yet sees everything, Gormley's Blind Light constructs an environment in which eyes are wide open and everything is illuminated, yet one sees nothing. In both situations the notion of the tactile is key: the vision machine manipulates data and enables "sight" through the tactile, digital interplay between the senses: a haptic-made-optic.

With Blind Light, by contrast, we are at a point in which the body is completely dematerialized into or merged with its architectural container, the glass box, while bodies also interact within its space; we are at once corporeal and in the network. And for one to navigate the other vision becomes useless: we feel the heavy atmosphere on our skin and in our breathing, we listen for audio cues in the acoustic space, we tread gingerly with the soles of our feet and reach out tentatively with our fingertips. It is tactility, or the interplay between the senses, that allows us to survive the blinding light(ness) of the network.

Hence, tactile burden.


Hatch (2007)

<!–a series on antony gormley and the origin of "tactile burden", in no particular order–>

A recurring theme in Gormley's work is the notion of the (surveillant) gaze, which makes sense given his interest in the body and the architecture of the city. The gaze is nowhere more apparent than in one of his most recent sculptures, Hatch. Because of the nature of the work, only two people were allowed at a time to be inside the room that constituted the field of the work itself. (This generated the contemporary form of the queue in which nobody is quite certain why one is queueing — the queue "legitimizes" the work in and of itself.) Because of the long queue, people were very curious and keen to get a glance at what lay inside the room.

Hatch - Courtesy of Antony Gormley

This was accomplished via the grid-like meshwork of square holes that studded the walls to allow light inside. Some of these squares extended right into the room by means of aluminum endoscopic tubes — instruments used for surgically looking deep within a body — constituting another version of the panoptic city. In this I was reminded of Virilio's "vision machine" and the "endocolonization" of the animal and social bodies.

But these holes and tubes also allow for those within to see outside, a point made abundantly clear to me when I overheard the woman ahead in the queue, after looking in to see an eyeball peering back, remarked "How dare they look back at us?"

Peer, indeed.

Not wanting to wait in the queue, some people simply walked to the doorway and looked in, but that completely misses the point of the work: at its core, Hatch is a bodily experience, a field in which one must duck, straddle, circumvent and collide with the irregular-length endoscopic tubes as they poke out of the floor, walls and ceiling.

As with many cityscapes, however, this one is not equally accessible, as a sign outside the room pointed out: "We advise that for children and wheelchair users this work is best viewed from outside."

So while Gormley problematizes the surveillance/sousveillance binary in this work, he also (perhaps unintentionally) problematizes dis/ability and the way an "ideal" body might move through the city.