detailing, digits, painting the corners

catcher-trans

"Of course he and she can as easily be she and he (and everything in between). The point is not so much the singular biological body that performs the role of catcher, but rather the catcher's affective modulation of pitching, hitting and adjudicating bodies through a proximity of flesh resonance that we have come to identify as the feminine — expressed in the signal of the called pitch. Ronell's figure of the switchboard operator looms present in this context, though the linguistic signals of telecommunication have been replaced, at least in part, by a more subtle consideration of co-resonance with these three other performing bodies."

(sportsbabel, march 2010)

-

"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."

(sportsbabel, february 2010)

faster!

skiing drone

A TV drone flies beside Canada's Erick Guay during the second practice of the men's Alpine skiing World Cup downhill race at the Lauberhorn in Wengen, January 12, 2012. (Reuters)

- - -

"Sony's first video recorders were actually not designed for household use, but rather for the surveillance of shopping centers, prisons, and other centers of power, but through the misuse of army equipment users themselves also succeeded in mutating into television reporters and cutters. Television has since become a closed system that can process, store, and transmit data at the same time and thus allows every possible trick or manipulation, like film or music electronics. And every video clip shows how far the tricks of music and optics have surpassed the speed of film. The pleasure afforded by this technology should not allow two things to be forgotten: the television always also remains a form of worldwide surveillance through spy satellites, and even as a closed information system it still represents a generalized assault on other optical media."

– Friedrich Kittler, Optical Media, p.221

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

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?

archive, intelligence, thought

Instant Karma's Gonna Get You: Reflections on Movement, Relation and Memory

(submitted by sean smith to the intersections 2010 conference in communication and culture at york university)

Street Chess in Amsterdam

In 1966 the Fluxus-influenced artist Yoko Ono presented Play It By Trust, a conceptual work featuring a chess board with two sets of all-white pieces facing each other on a grid of all-white squares. The opponents become indistinguishable from one another in the absence of traditional visual signifiers, and as the hypothetical game progresses the entire binary of militarized competition becomes subject to reconsideration. Using Ono's white chess set as a model I will put the game into play, so to speak, as a means of questioning the interrelated concepts of movement, relation and memory within this ludic space. Drawing primarily on the theory of Deleuze and Guattari, Kittler, Massumi, Manning and Agamben, I will contrast the archive as technical apparatus with a more embodied and intermediated form of collective remembering, as well as explore their implications for political sovereignty in the age of Empire.

Street Chess in Amsterdam

Two passages from Jean Baudrillard:

- from "Beyond Artificial Intelligence: Radicality of Thought," in Impossible Exchange, p. 116:

"Kasparov has on his side the human passion of the challenge; he has an other ranged against him, an opponent. Strictly speaking, Deep Blue has no adversary; it moves within the scope of its own programme. This is a decisive advantage for the human, the advantage of otherness, which is the subtle precondition for play, with its possibilities of decoying, of 'overplaying one's hand', of sacrifice and weakness. The computer, by contrast, is condemned to play at the height of its capabilities."

- from "Deep Blue or the Computer's Melancholia," in Screened Out, p. 163:

"When up against the machine they have themselves programmed (let us not forget that it was men like Kasparov who programmed Deep Blue), human beings can only subtly de-programme themselves, become 'technically incorrect' to stay ahead of the game. They may even have to take over the machine's own place. … This is the only possible strategy: if you become technically correct, you are unfailingly beaten by the machine."

Of Heroes, Trebles and the Performative Underclass

A long time ago I decided that sports videogames were the karaoke of the sportocracy, but over time I have come to modify that opinion. It's not that I have eschewed the belief that both karaoke lovers and sports videogame aficionados desire to engage in acts of post-celebrity culture, but that the material specificities of each communication medium as well as the conditions of their production demand a more nuanced analysis.

A sports videogame is not just about supplying the missing body motions for a complete sporting performance, as karaoke is about supplying the missing vocals to complete a musical performance. Looking at the underlying materiality of the latter medium, karaoke first substitutes out the vocal performance for a recorded song so that an instrumental version may be used, which requires the recording technique of laying multiple audio tracks that are subsequently mixed into a final product. For the instrumental karaoke version of the song, the vocal track is deleted from the final output; or, more correctly, it is translated to textual form, adding yet another term in the oscillating recursion between spoken and written signifier.

Second, if we view the final karaoke performance as the "finished product" we note that production is completed at a location remote from where it was begun, what we might consider a spatial-axis manipulation of the performing body that parallels Kittler's observation of the time-axis manipulation properties available with recordable electronic media. This should be qualified, however, by recalling Deleuze and Guattari's assertion that there is no alpha and omega to the production process ("the law of the production of production"), and hence we cannot look at the karaoke performance dogmatically as a finished product. Nonetheless, the very real effects on the human body of this deferred and recombinant performativity force us to consider such a spatial-axis manipulation; not only does technical reproducibility negate the aura of the live performance, as Benjamin points out, it also negates the requirement for a single unitary body to produce this performance.

Courtesy of NOW magazineThird, there is the question of the "finished product" itself. When karaoke singers perform a tune they are only as good as their own voice. In other words, there is no mechanism at work here that can improve talent. For many participants, much of the experience consists in being bad at singing!

Contrast this with the smash hit videogames Guitar Hero and Rock Band. The player of the game doesn't need to be able to play the guitar as well as the original guitarist — or even at all — in order to complete the performance or finish the product to a relatively decent quality standard. Simply by pressing an increasingly complex sequence of buttons on a plastic guitar-resembling interface, the aspiring gamer-musician may approximate the guitar riffs of real-life rock gods. This is what we might describe as prosthetic talent.

From where is this prosthetic talent generated? We should recall an earlier discussion on sportsBabel about body trebling. In sports videogames, which are modeled after the exploits of professional sports leagues, the athletes themselves serve two purposes: first, their league play provides a steadily growing archive of statistics and other metadata — what I originally termed I3, the images, information and identities of immaterial sportocratic production; second, athletes perform "signature moves" for motion capture assemblies, which are then programmatically inserted into the videogame engine.

But the professional athletes are not the sole motile source in videogame production. In order to get "authentic" movement patterns of athletes in unscripted situations for the game NBA Live, for example, publisher EA Sports brought in a number of anonymous athletes to play improvised pickup basketball in a motion capture studio. In other words, much of the musculature required for the production of these virtual identity-vehicles was outsourced to cheaper labour, from which patterns of movement were abstracted and programmed into the game.

Motion Capture Collage - Courtesy EA Sports

Why is this relevant to a discussion of Guitar Hero and Rock Band? Because a similar economic arrangement is taking place in the production of prosthetic talent for the wannabe home music legend. While most people new to Guitar Hero revel in the opportunity to reprise rock classics that come bundled with the game, such as Foghat's "Slow Ride," the game publishers are increasingly extracting profits from the sale of downloadable expansion packs that are produced and distributed at low marginal cost and high marginal profit. And some of these expansion packs, as an article by Evan Davies for NOW magazine elaborates, are being used to break new talent to the market.

A little while before Protest the Hero's show at the Kool Haus on February 8 in front of a packed all-ages crowd full of the kids you'd expect to find sitting around trying to master GH with their buddies, I board their tour bus. The up-and-coming spasmodic prog-metalcore crew from Whitby recently joined the envied ranks of bands with songs featured in the game.

For a young, hungry band, that's no small beans. In fact, it's a whole lot of big tasty beans, possibly mountains' worth, when you translate the exposure into the lovely, filthy, beautiful corporate cash that comes with it.

. . .

For a smaller band without the resources of the big rock monsters, inclusion in a bonus downloadable three-song pack that includes their song with ones by Atreyu and Trivium bestows the kind of publicity you only get otherwise after your sex tape is leaked online or you bone the governor of New York at 4,300 bucks a pop.

"We're the smallest band of the three, so the fact that their fans are downloading our song because they have to is great exposure," says Miller. "And I've met people who've discovered our band because of GH. It's brilliant, because it forces you to listen to a song until you master it. It's playing in your head whether you like it or not. It's funny how you can get a better relationship with fans and people will like you more because you're in the game."

Interestingly, the intellectual property rights for many of the songs available in expansion packs are not being acquired on a royalty model by the game's publishers. Instead, the publishers purchase the rights to the song and then pay a session band to re-record the music.

Dimitri Coats, singer and guitarist with the hard-rocking Burning Brides, beams with pride when he talks about walking into a store with his mom to show her a demo of his band's song on Guitar Hero.

"The whole thing is hilarious to us, because the version of Heart Full Of Black on the game isn't ours," he says. "They paid to use the song but re-recorded it. That isn't me singing or us playing. It's someone else covering the song. I guess they saved money doing it that way."

In addition to music that is format radio friendly (ie. 3:30 long, vanilla lyrics), future bands wishing to break into the business via the videogame channel will need to develop rock-god guitar riffs that are easily translatable to the Guitar Hero interface — what we might describe as audio signature moves. Ultimately, it is these memes that are purchased by publishing companies and that will persist in the detritus of future music culture.

Much like karaoke before it, Guitar Hero and Rock Band are seductive in their suggestion of carnival-like opportunities to reduce the level of risk required to shed otherwise reticent personalities or repressed exuberance and somewhat make a fool of one's self. The prosthetic talent available in the videogames further reduces the barriers to entry and allows more people to temporarily test drive a new identity-vehicle. But these are not carnivals, at least not in Bakhtin's sense of the word, but rather carefully controlled opportunities for consumption crafted by transnational capital that involve new and very real relations of economic exploitation.

The story [on blogs and tech news sites like kotaku.com] asserts that studio session players re-recording the wailing guitar solos and accompanying instruments, some of them only getting $100 to $150 an hour, are getting scammed. Bear in mind that Activision recently announced an 80 per cent rise in sales for the holiday quarter, translating into sales of $1.48 billion and profits of $272.2 million.

In short, though they share a common basis in desiring-celebrity, sports videogames are less like karaoke and more like music videogames such as Guitar Hero and Rock Band: both sporting and musical forms of videogame use the material capabilities of motion capture and console technology to split the performing body across space in its real and virtual formats; and both rely on a barely visible performative underclass to keep production costs at a minimum.