A Meditation

Can yoga practised today in a rational, square studio space truly claim to fully represent and embody the rich philosophical and historical tradition of yogic practice? Is a disclaimer made at the door?

Newspeak: "Attempt"

Purposely engaging in conduct that constitutes a substantial step in a course of conduct planned to culminate in the commission of an anti-doping rule violation. Provided, however, there shall be no anti-doping rule violation based solely on an attempt to commit a violation if the person renunciates the attempt prior to it being discovered by a third party not involved in the attempt.

Internalize the gaze before someone else sees you. And yes, in medieval religious tones, they did use the word "renunciate".

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?

Sponsorship as a Vector Through Time

If we were to separate content and form volumetrically to capture real-time sports television images, then one of the formal elements that could be marked up with a stylesheet could be corporate sponsorship. Stadium sponsorship banners could be tagged to display those with whom the organization currently has a sponsorship deal, even if a "classic" game is being viewed.

Wark points out that "the archive is a vector through time just as telesthesia is a vector through space." Currently, sponsorship at the sports stadium constitutes the purchase of a vector through space. By separating content from form and marking-up sponsorship as described above, the advertiser will increasingly be purchasing a vector through time instead.

In Archive Fever, Derrida writes:

The archons are first of all the documents’ guardians. They do not only ensure the physical security of what is deposited and of the substrate. They are also accorded the hermeneutic right and competence. They have the power to interpret the archives (p. 2).

What does this separation of content from form do to the "fact" of the archive? Will we someday see a corporate sponsor embedded in an archive that predates the sponsor's existence? Who will control the hermeneutic right to interpret the archive?

Separating Form and Content

Most contemporary web sites can be characterized by two primary features. First, they are dynamically generated by database-driven content, and second, this content is kept separate from its eventual form. With sportsBabel, for example, Wordpress stores each post in a MySQL database and when the page is loaded, a PHP file calls for various fields (eg. post header, post body, date, author) to be retrieved in a particular order and structured in a particular way. But that only gives us a web page with plain text and images; how does the data retrieved from the database get sorted into the appropriate places on the page, how does the header for every post become blue and how does the footer for every post get marked up with barcodes?

Form is given to the page's data just before it is displayed when the PHP file calls what is referred to as a cascading style sheet (CSS). Essentially, the CSS file says, take every piece of data that has been structurally referred to as "header level one" and make it bigger, blue, Trebuchet MS font, etc. The CSS for this type of style looks like this:

h1	{
	padding: 0px 0px 0px 0px;
	margin: 0px 0px -3px -1px;
	color: #333399;
	font-weight: 600;
	font-family: 'Trebuchet MS', Helvetica, sans-serif;
	font-size: 24px;
	line-height: 24px;
	letter-spacing: -1px

The beauty of CSS lies in its scalability: when you have a web site of three pages, making layout changes or site redesigns is not that much of a hassle. But when your site is database-driven and/or grows to hundreds or thousands of pages (if sportsBabel was created manually, it would comprise over 1,000 pages), trying to change "header level one" to a dark green serif font is a major challenge. The beauty — and practicality — of keeping form and content separate in web site design becomes readily apparent.

But what about with television? Could we see the same thing happen in TV program design?

Courtesy of NBA on CBS

From time to time I will flip to the Raptors TV channel and catch some of an NBA Hardwood Classics game. Though the games are usually from the early 1980s to the mid 1990s, I am always startled at first glance by how dated they look. Have televisual production and distribution technologies really made such great strides in a decade and a half? (Keep in mind that my personal televisual consumption technologies haven't exactly made astonishing gains: I'm watching digital cable on a old tube television, not Hi-Def on a 1080p plasma.)

If so, then why hasn't anyone anticipated such improvement and worked to ensure that libraries of legacy footage will always look as pristine as the technology of the day will allow? Why should the technical limitations of the medium today be the determining factor in how it will be presented years from now? In other words, is it not better to capture the content separately and then mark it up form-wise at the time of presentation such that an NBA Hardwood Classics game doesn't look so, ummm … classic?

The reason we don't do it today is that we tend to conceive of television in two-dimensional terms, despite the fact that it has been reduced to this plane from a three-dimensional reality. But television doesn't really exist anymore, does it? In other words, even if we still believe that we are watching a planar, "television" medium, we need to get beyond the limits of a two-dimensional mindset.

The technology to separate the content and form of three-dimensional data currently exists. This type of "photography" is essentially what occurs with motion capture in the construction of sports videogames. Capturing points of light as content allows for the digital creation and replication of a wireframe skeleton on top of which formal elements such as flesh, hair, uniforms and running shoes may be added. But motion capture photography takes place months before game production is completed and viewing by the public occurs. For form and content to be separated in a live sports television environment, however, we need to shrink this temporal lag and capture athletes volumetrically in real-time.

Motion Capture Collage - Courtesy EA Sports

Of course, this is a major leap technologically-speaking, but one that is presumably solved as chip processing and graphics rendering solutions become faster and cheaper. Another challenge for live three-dimensional sports television production is the motion capture suit that allows for different points of light to be isolated by the camera, which is prohibitive for normal athletic performance. But other technologies are beginning to erode the dependence on such a suit for the creation of volumetric imagery. The "bullet time" simulated high speed photography for Michael Jordan's IMAX dunk, ProZone's soccer athlete tracking system, and the EyeToy videogame interface are all making rapid advances in what is possible without the requirements of a traditional motion capture apparatus.

From here, one could "mark-up" the volumetric content with formal stylesheets that, for example, could change a team's uniform colours, improve the lighting conditions at the arena, customize the corporate sponsors for different audiences, or take advantage of other output devices that might follow the television, such as a holographic projector. In other words, the static archival document is no longer the sole option for professional sports leagues going forward.

Optics, Haptics and a State of Irony

What timing!

(Pun intended.)

Almost as if he knew I was working on this very topic, Mexican politician Roberto Madrazo was disqualified recently from the Berlin Marathon after winning his age group category. No Ruiz he, it is how Madrazo was caught that is of interest to sportsBabel, with the 55-year-old former presidential candidate captured by the machinations of the control society.

Courtesy of AP/Victor Sailer

At first glance, it appears to be a matter of touch:

On Monday, race officials said they had proof that Madrazo had taken a shortcut. An electronic tracking chip in one of his running shoes showed he had skipped two checkpoints and appeared to have run one nine-mile section faster than any human being on record, taking only 21 minutes.

"Not even the world record holder can go that fast," the race director, Mark Milde, told The Associated Press. (The record for 15,000 meters, about 9.3 miles, is 41 minutes 29 seconds, set by Felix Limo of Kenya in November 2001.)

But upon further examination, it might be a matter of vision after all:

But a sports photographer, Victor Sailer, wondered why Madrazo was wearing a jacket, a cap and long tights on a day when most of the runners finished the race in sweat-soaked T-shirts and shorts. Sailer showed his photo to race officials and raised the possibility that Madrazo might have broken the rules.

Touch or vision? Whatever the answer, it appears that for Madrazo, "who used his marathon-running as a metaphor for his determination and steadiness in campaign advertisements," the consequence is poor optics.