AutoImmune Wall

("biogramming base bodies: we're all in" - brief notes from a brief presentation made at the 2011 north american society for sport sociology conference in minneapolis)

Courtesy of adidasCourtesy of adidas


On December 31, 1999, the ESPN cable sports network ran its Greatest Moments of the 20th Century, a 6-minute 44-second compilation of the most epic highlights in (primarily American) sport since the advent of television. Set to Aerosmith's "Dream On," the effect is a spine-chilling barrage of significant moments culled from decades of sporting events and condensed into a few minutes of adrenaline-soaked nostalgia. If the average weeknight highlight reel has a mild narcotic effect to it, then Greatest Moments of the 20th Century was crack cocaine, folding a longer stretch of lived time and more intensely felt affects into a televisual delirium whose high fades shortly after consumption.

ESPN's video offers the viewer an accounting of time: in this compilation of the "best" and most memorable moments we have a linear accounting of time extracted from duration — a catalogue of sorts from which one must know all the references as proof of good fan subjectivity, whose cuts may thereafter be rearranged to create a particular narrative order in tandem with the theme music.

Courtesy of adidasCourtesy of adidas

Courtesy of adidasCourtesy of adidas

In early 2011, athletic footwear, apparel and lifestyle conglomerate adidas launched its worldwide marketing campaign "adidas is all in". Presented as a cosmopolitan moment in global sport and physical culture — at least insofar as its endorsers and target markets are concerned — the campaign's television creative consisted of 15, 30 and 60-second edits of a centrepiece 120-second ad, played at the launch of the campaign and available on Youtube thereafter. Within five months of the "adidas is all in" launch, the full-length version had been viewed over 2 million times.

In contrast with the ESPN video, "All In" is rather an accounting of globalized, cosmopolitan space in a durational moment of time: two minutes of sports and entertainment happening around the world right now. Set to a pulsing soundtrack by Justice, the moving gestures in this dynamic form are asignifiying in the sense that these sports and entertainment figures have been abstracted from referential time — one does not need to know nearly as many references in order to "comprehend" the video text. While Muybridge and Marey used stroboscopic photography to deconstruct the moving body into series of still images, adidas strobes bodies together with light and sound, moving-cuts moving through each break, amodally intermingling gestures as part of the composing form of the biogram.


The cut moves from sound to image, as seen in the scene with football players barking like dogs morphing to stadium security apparatus (the latter of which legitimates the contest as an important event):

Courtesy of adidasCourtesy of adidas

The cut also moves through tiny explosions of light, "independent" of gesture in their luminescence:

Courtesy of adidasCourtesy of adidasCourtesy of adidasCourtesy of adidas


Eduardo Galeano once described the goal in soccer as that sport's orgasmic form. Interestingly, however, it is Rose the basketball player and not Messi the footballer who scores in the end, providing a release to the pent-up libidinal tension whose point of inflection may be found in the speed bag pummeling of frenulum or clitoris.

Courtesy of adidasCourtesy of adidasCourtesy of adidasCourtesy of adidas

This is definitely a schizorgasm we are describing, however. Rose's dunk is immediately followed by a punishing blow to the face in the boxing ring, which sets off a chain of aggression in the succeeding clips. (Consent?) As the pulsing waves of pleasure subside to a refractory period of shopping or consumption we are led through an affective tonality of aggression and conflict: the Haka warrior dance used by the New Zealand All-Blacks rugby team to intimidate opponents; two college football mascots fighting on the sidelines; a figure wearing a protective gas mask and holding a flaming torch, suggesting perhaps an ambiguous recognizance between street artist or political activist and providing a stark counter-punctum to the clip of security dogs and officers earlier in the video. It is intensities that have been represented, after all.

Courtesy of adidasCourtesy of adidas

Intensity and representation

A cultural studies read of the text as semiotic is certainly important — for example, within the representational elements of gender, race, embodiment or movement culture — but in a sense these are retrospectively coded understandings.

Courtesy of adidasCourtesy of adidas

As Brian Massumi suggests, "The kinds of codings, griddings, and positionings with which cultural theory has been preoccupied are no exception to the dynamic unity of feedback and feed-forward, or double becoming. Gender, race, and orientation are what Ian Hacking calls 'interactive kinds': logical categories that feed back into and transform the reality they describe (and are themselves modified by in return). Ideas about cultural or social construction have dead-ended because they have insisted on bracketing the nature of the process" (Parables for the Virtual, p.11).

It is the movements of becoming-bodies, rather, not to mention their (re)production through sophisticated digital editing techniques that emerge as the biogram and its composing form with which we should be concerned. This dynamism is forged under intense speed, a subtle narcosis of attack on perception that through a particular pathway of movement states simply "I want more."

motion capture vs. biological flow

Next week the Department of Biological Flow will visit the Balance and Gait Laboratory at Brock University to continue our trajectory of research-creation on the moving human body as it is integrated with broader information networks of signal and noise. To this point the project has primarily been about the walking body in surveillant public and quasi-public spaces, the idea of gait as a uniquely identifying feature, and what we have understood to be an emergence of gait-based surveillance.

Our Kino-Gait Study No.3 was basically an attempt to ask what would happen if the skin-as-volumetric-construct could "see back" in surveillant space — in other words, if gait became our method of seeing rather than the eye (kino-gait). The video above was an experiment to demonstrate that concept.

Following the twin legacies of Muybridge and Marey, the motion capture studio exists today as both clinical instrument for biomechanical analysis and productive apparatus for entertainment spectacle. Its surveillance function is located somewhere in between. Our goal during the study next week is to have an embodied experience of "motion capture" and to creatively play within these tensional intersections.

The objectives for this study include:

  1. Develop a "normal" full model of walking body.
  2. Decode or "scramble" the markers by changing their locations on the body joints and walk again — what would this do?
  3. Have the two Department of Biological Flow members "glued" together front-to-back. The forward person has markers on front and left sides of the body, the rear person has markers on right and back sides of the body. The two bodies match strides, glued together, and then "split" apart halfway and veer off in opposite directions, as if "tearing" the subject in two or radically reconfiguring its relationality.

After these objectives are completed, the next phase of the study will have us wrap a simple videogame flesh texture map around the mocap model and then see what happens to the flesh and its gestural qualities when scrambled (as in scenario #2) or when the body splits in two directions (as in scenario #3).

Marginal Notes on Notes on Gesture

Motion capture. Captured motion.

It is no coincidence that in his essay "Notes on Gesture" Giorgio Agamben only provides the reader one concrete exemplar of what actually constitutes a gesture, and that is gait. Recall that Muybridge and Marey became godfathers of not only the art of cinema but also the science of biomechanics, the relation becoming more apparent over the course of the twentieth century insofar as both serve to capture motion. Or, more specifically, as they both serve to capture gesture: walking and gait have become as important to the processes of consumption as they have to those of production.

It is gait that provided the basis for some of Muybridge and Marey's early cinematic works, but is also the foundational human movement that has driven most innovations in biomechanical measurement during the past century, from stroboscopic photography to force plate analysis to high-speed videography. As Francesco Careri suggests, walking is the "first aesthetic act" of humans in that it assumes a "symbolic form" shaping our very being in the world and our relationships to landscape and architecture. Gait is integral to this symbolic form and thus integral to our built environment both real and virtual. While Careri argues convincingly that the built environment of humans emerges from nomadic walking peoples, eventually it comes to mark the character of the sedentary city in both material and immaterial fashion: the polis and the walking subject enter biunivocal relations of naming the other. Walking is not simply an aesthetic act, then, but a political one as well.

Courtesy of Gabriel Orozco

Gabriel Orozco
digitally-manipulated photographic print

And while Agamben devotes his attention to cinema for the remainder of the essay, perhaps we ought to follow the twin genealogies created by Muybridge and Marey to consider parallel developments in biomechanics as well. Extending an argument from Deleuze's book on cinema, Agamben suggests that "the element of cinema is gesture and not image." If Agamben and Deleuze are correct, then the reason gesture has been obscured in cinematic analysis appears to be simple, as it is literally a matter of appearances. Until recently, cinematic scenes were always shot from a single perspective at a time, from a single camera, and many of these single shots (perhaps from different cameras) were edited together to form a final filmic image — with the audience member, as Benjamin points out, assuming the position of the camera and the gaze of the director.

With this flattening of the perspectival gaze to the two-dimensional surface it appears that the image constitutes the foundational element of cinema, but this is due to the technical limitations of the input device rather than to any truth of the form itself — if we can consider "cinema" to be an assemblage of bodies and technologies that produces the final filmic image. Given such an input, one can never see all sides of a volume from a single point in Euclidean space — and gesture is volumetric.

What technical vision wants is to see the subject from all directions at once — in other words, to become omnidirectional or omnipresent (and here we can explain the "replacement" for an idea of God, in a technocratic sense of becoming-secular). Following Agamben and Deleuze, this is because technical vision wants to represent gesture rather than simple image.

The goal of omnidirectionality had been accomplished to some degree in biomechanics with motion capture technology, an apparatus that features multiple simultaneous camera angles synthesized together to identify the position of markers located on key anthropometric sites of the body. In doing so, it became possible to create volumetric models of gesture for the purposes of measurement, analysis and optimization.

But omnidirectionality has truly taken off with videogames, which took the practical fruits of biomechanic research and made them profitable for the industry of integrated spectacle. Financial gain may now accrue by capturing and expropriating the gestures of athletes and actors to create identity-constructs that are tried on like well-made Armani suits. While playing these games the user reduces one's own gestures to a programmed and nearly-pure electromagnetic impulse almost unrecognizable in comparison to those movements taking place on the screen.

Motion Capture Collage - Courtesy EA Sports

And since it is the integrated spectacle we are describing it is no surprise that innovations in the videogame medium were fedbackforward into cinema, as with the bullet time effects in The Matrix. It is perhaps most impressive, then, that Deleuze recognized cinema's gestural character without ever having seen Trinity levitate to raise holy hell on two units of simulated police.

Preliminary Notes Toward a Concept of Kino-Gait

decouple camera from eye + gait surfing + vitruvian man + cubo-futurism + matrixial borderspace =

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agamben: "an age that has lost its gestures is, for this reason, obsessed by them. for human beings who have lost every sense of naturalness, each single gesture becomes a destiny. and the more gestures lose their ease under the action of invisible powers, the more life becomes indecipherable" (notes on politics, p. 53).

MJ - Bullet Time - Courtesy MJ to the Max

virilio: "the first difference between cinema and photography is that the viewpoint can be mobile, can get away from the static focus and share the speed of moving objects" (war and cinema, p. 16).

muybridge and marey are both known as grandfathers of the cinema, but also as grandfathers of biomechanics, the scientific field of study that breaks down the human body into its functional components for discrete analysis and optimization.

Animal Locomotion - courtesy of Eadweard Muybridge

muybridge: sequential images from single or different cameras; sensation or perception of the surface of the moving body.

marey: one camera capturing a spectrum of movement in one image, united by stroboscopic lighting; presence of clock within photography illustrates the folding of time within process.

Photo Finish

this folding of time within the image — making it chronometric — has become the politics of the high performance athlete as speed increases, challenging the earlier usefulness of a foucauldian understanding of surveillance and panopticism as politics.

Steve Mann

the concept of sousveillance first proposed and practised by steve mann — a seeing from "below" of those who see us through surveillance — was an important step towards navigating and negotiating such a politics, but suffers in that the camera is still identified with the eye.

in the age of gait-based surveillance, how can we make our gait see? how do we reduce ocularcentrism without becoming blind to the politics in which we live?

(i think a personal moment in the genealogy towards asking this question may be located in my 2007 mind's camera portrait study.)

Bubble Matrix (vertical swimming pose) - courtesy of Antony Gormley

the first instinct upon seeing antony gormley's sculpture above is to presume the moving body is an object of volumetric striation in negative space.

why can't it suggest that the moving body itself is a total visioning apparatus? call this kino-gait.

Courtesy of ProZone

with motion capture and econometric technologies like prozone, multiple cameras function together to synthesize a single omniperspectival gaze.

similarly, kino-gait should have multiple cameras functioning together to create a single omnidirectional volumetric vision.

the goal of kino-gait is to have the whole surface of the body function as an eye: the entire skin-as-camera becomes a preliminary limit of kino-gait.

might kino-gait become a strategy for negotiating the topological transformations of three-dimensional information environments?

this is not to replace or diminish the flesh as a means or locus of knowing, but rather to complement or enhance it.