Space, Place and the Agent

Unlike the brazen negation of ticket protocol seen recently at the Olympic Games in Beijing, where touts openly flaunted their wares in public spaces under the not-so-watchful (or not-so-caring) eye of security personnel, the question of black market ticket scalping at professional sports events in the west is far different, since the law and its corresponding penalties are far more strictly observed. The following is an exchange that took place at Yankee Stadium in New York on August 29, before the Yankees hosted the Toronto Blue Jays in the opener of a three-game set.

Are the "courtesy rules" of this protocol that lies outside of protocol understood and respected by all?

Yankees Ticket

Agent: Hey, you need tickets?

sportsBabel: Whaddaya got?

A: Oh, I got everything. How much do you want to spend?

sB: What are your lowest tickets?

A: I got Main Reserved for seventy.

sB: (Winces.) That's an awful lot.

A: Here, I'll show you the tickets.

sB: (Notices a police officer ambling towards them.) Um … why don't we take a little walk this way?

A: (Notices the cop himself.) I like your style, man. Thanks for hooking me up. (They walk a few feet away.) Here's the tickets, here's the seats. Seventy bucks each.

sB: C'mon, the game's already started … the second inning's already over!

A: Okay, I can go down to sixty.

sB: Hey, wait, these are obstructed view tickets. I don't want obstructed views. What else've you got?

A: Well now you're getting into the good seats.

sB: How much?

A: Hey, these are MVP Boxes! Okay, here's what I can do: I'm taking a beating on these tickets tonight … I just want to get my money back … I'll give you these two for a hundred each. (Face value of tickets is $90 each.)

sB: You can do better than that. The game's already started, I kept you clear from the cop. C'mon, sixty bucks each.

A: I'll do eighty for you … these are good seats, man! I'll show them to you on a map …

sB: Seventy.

A: Lemme show you the map …

sB: Seventy.

A: Okay, seventy.

(sB pulls out cash.)

A: That's one-forty for the two.

(sB hands over a Benjamin Franklin and two Andrew Jacksons.)

A: Nice doing business with you … here, take one of my cards … my name is Doc. (Passes business card and shakes hands.)

sB: All right … thanks.1

* * *

What is interesting is how space and place morph over time for the exchanges engaged in by the agent. Clearly there is the time pressure of the exchange as the game begins, after which the utility of tickets for a consumer rapidly approaches zero. The job of the agent is to extract as much of the rent possible until that zero point is reached, but how to know? It is a complex interplay of the immediately sensed (visually sizing up what a consumer might spend, haptically sensing the crowd outside the stadium deplete as the game begins) and the foldings of experience and reflection that together embody the precise (though coarse) calculus required to maximize profits every night.

But we witness this morphing on an even more microtemporal scale as well. The agent is able to be successful in his enterprise (and they are almost exclusively male) only with an intimate understanding of the stadium and its surroundings as place — familiar landmarks for navigation, patterns of light and shadow that facilitate or disguise a transaction, an understanding of how flows move as they depart the B, D and 4 trains — yet the agent wants to move in the freedom of smooth space. This is made apparent when the police officer — a different agent, this time of the State — who moves on fairly circumscribed paths and who wants to maintain the security and striation of place, approaches the temporary autonomous zone of the ticket scalping transaction.

These perturbations of space, place and time, both major and minor, mutate the parameters of exchange in very particular and rational ways. Once the process has moved outside of place to space, both parties in the exchange must be multi-sensually attentive to these rhythms in order to maximize gains. This may be particularly difficult for the consumer in the west, who has had the ability to detect and respond to these rhythms atrophied by the hygienic places of everyday consumption.

1 This narrative is certainly not a perfect transcript of what transpired during the transaction. Certain events were remembered clearly, while others have been brushed together by the mind to form a complete portrait. And memory of the exchange is almost certainly challenged in retrospect by the fact that the seats ended up being great and the experience wonderful. That said, the purpose of articulating the discussion between sportsBabel and the Agent is not to decide a "winner" of the negotiation, but rather to illustrate the rhythmical nature of exchange in smooth space, which the odd lapse into fiction does not compromise in the slightest.

palimpsest, memory, erasure

Bus Stop

"An object or place achieves concrete reality when our experience of it is total, that is, through all the senses as well as with the active and reflective mind. Long residence enables us to know a place intimately, yet its image may lack sharpness unless we can also see it from the outside and reflect upon our experience. Another place may lack the weight of reality because we know it only from the outside — through the eyes as tourists, and from reading about it in a guidebook. It is a characteristic of the symbol-making human species that its members can become passionately attached to places of enormous size, such as a nation-state, of which they can have only limited direct experience."
– Yi-Fu Tuan, Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience, p. 18.



sportsweb, replication, contagion


"Can a creative gesture by one artist athlete be passed like a baton through the years to be continued or completed by another artist athlete in another time so that it never has to end but fulfils Gonzalez-Torres's ambition to become 'endless copies'?"

Dario Robleto
artist's notes
Not Quite How I Remember It exhibition
Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery, Toronto

language, flows, synergy

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

Courtesy of iwishicoulddescribeittoyoubetter

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

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

track listing

introduction, sport and media | 7'49

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

blogging | 16'30

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

singularity | 10'02

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

semiotic | 9'17

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

panoptic and panhaptic | 21'13

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

control, gaps, noises, cracks | 8'04

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

homeshop | 18'11

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


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

wii would like to play // we don't have tickets

wii would like to play // we don't have tickets was a critical urban intervention run by sportsBabel during HomeShop series one: GAMES 2008, an investigation of public and private space in Beijing hosted by artist and designer Elaine W. Ho. A number of activities have occurred at Ho's shopfront residence during the series, "minor practices [embarking] from the crossing points of the local community and the world spectacle of the 2008 Olympic Games," including a public screening of the Olympic opening ceremonies and a Loser's Party celebrating all of those who didn't make it to the podium. Many of the activities that have taken place at HomeShop have in some way engaged themes of blurring public and private space, the temporality of the neighbourhood as opposed to that of the Olympic timetable, speed and slowness in a changing China, or the blending of communities that otherwise share little in common.

Smith vs. Zheng
The man on the left speaks no Chinese. The man on the right speaks no English.
The screen and their mediated gestures become the vehicle of communication.
(Camera: Tan Zhengjie)

Thousands watched at the Beijing National Stadium and millions more watched on TV the night of August 16 as Usain Bolt crossed the finish line to win the signature event in athletics, the 100-metre final. Meanwhile, at the HomeShop series one: GAMES 2008 critical space, the television had long been turned off in favour of an embodied experience during the wii would like to play // we don't have tickets urban intervention; 36 people volunteered to participate in and dozens more watched a Wii videogame version of the 100-metre sprint — Mario and Sonic at Beijing Olympics — on an outdoor projection screen in the hutong. Located in the interstices between Chinese and English language, the flat surface of the screen and the embodied volumetric Wii-motions provided a vehicle of communication between erstwhile Others.

Given this particular form of translation, it was ironic that the Mario and Sonic at Beijing Olympics game interface was in Japanese, a language understood by nobody at the party. But a combination of trial-and-error and mnemonic device forged a path through the semiotic flows of navigational menus in order for the group to play and function rather smoothly.

The game was in Japanese due to the peculiar economies of counterfeit videogame culture: unlike a music CD or movie DVD, which may be copied by simply cracking the software encoding its content, console videogames require a hack of the firmware, that is, at the material level of the console itself. Once hacked, these so-called "modded boxes" may play any videogame disc created for that particular brand of console, thus sending the prices of both plummeting and radically disrupting "normal" market efficiencies. Much of the work towards hacking new iterations of videogame consoles such as the Wii takes place in Japan and thus the Japanese release of Mario and Sonic at Beijing Olympics, available 10 months before the opening ceremonies, quickly circulated through the samizdat of sports videogames for consumption in Beijing at prices radically discounted from retail.

Loser\'s PartyLoser\'s PartyLoser\'s Party

Though it was part of the HomeShop project's Loser's Party, simply awarding the prize — two Olympic tickets — to the worst participant of the 36 contestants would have provided an incentive to deliberately lose the Wii Olympics 100-metre dash and proven counterproductive. The solution? Find the most average runner — the Everyperson — by calculating the median time of the group and then locating the individual time closest to that median.

The initial winner of the tickets was Ren Bo, who was almost exactly on the median time but unfortunately already had other commitments on the same day and was unable to accept. After another quick calculation we were pleased to find that the next closest contestant was Yu Xiao Feng, an older woman from the hutong who had only shyly come forward to participate in the first place. She was initially quite bewildered when her name was announced, but got quite excited when my words were translated to Chinese and it was explained to her exactly what she had won. Since the HomeShop project at its core was about blurring the boundaries between public and private space, or between the new urban China and the traditional cultures of Beijing within an Olympic spatiotemporal and semiotic context, we were particularly pleased that she had won the tickets and would actually get the opportunity to attend the Olympics.

After that I spoke with Yu Xiao Feng's 13-year-old daughter, who was learning English in middle school. I was moved during our conversation by this strange blend of new and old in contemporary Beijing: a young girl timidly trying out her English with a laowai and growing more confident with each successful word, while her mother, though not able to understand any of what was being spoken, beamed with pride nonetheless. During a night in which language, translation and mistranslation were so central to an intervention at the nexus of sport, media and the body, my hope is that this minor practice portends a prophecy as metaphor for the China perceived as emergent by the west: growing more confident with every successful step while retaining links to the traditions that have allowed the myriad Chinese cultures to persist for thousands of years.

Tickets for the Saturday evening session of athletics competition at the National Stadium were reselling at ten times face value, certainly beyond affordable for many Beijingers, not to mention expats and foreign tourists. And that's if one could even find a ticket to be had. But the projection from within the private inner space of HomeShop outside to the hutong similarly allowed the private space within the Bird's Nest to be inverted such that privileged access to the track surface proper (not even those with tickets can access the track) was available to all participants in the urban intervention.

On the same night that a Jamaican man won a gold medal in a world record time of 9.69 seconds, a Chinese woman won a pair of Olympic tickets and gained a different level of access to this space of sporting privilege in a closest-to-the-median time of 10.854 seconds. The first, a singular performance against seven other competitors; the second, a singular-plural performance abstracted from databases of archival information and merged with prosthetic devices to contest against one other competitor via the gendered, cartoonish characters from the Mario and Sonic universe.

Which setting was more real and which more virtual? How does the issue of embodiment problematize this question? Can we even consider the stadium space, television space and videogame space as discrete, bounded spaces? Finally, which event/space/time contributed to a more enduring sense of community? wii would like to play // we don't have tickets provided tentative first steps — hesitations of thought, perhaps — towards answering these questions for the researcher, but also hopefully provided the same in a somewhat more intuitive fashion for the unasked questions of those who simply wanted to play together.

(Thanks to Elaine Ho for providing the HomeShop space, Tan Zhengjie for the video, Pauline Doutreluingne for spinning the tunes and setting the mood, and Hailey Xie for helping translate the concept into Chinese for the local guests.)

The Last Olympics: A Diary of Synhaptic Connexions

these are the things i have learned from you, with you, and just by being around you

networks of people; thick smells of sweet, sour and spicy from the restaurants of dongcheng district; acrid smells and beautiful decay in the neighbourhood; a unique intoxicating perfume imprints his memory; tactility of blind massage; tactile burden, trembling soul; sweaty palms; mutant palm; elevator music at the venues, on the phone, in the mall; elevators to travel up two floors; stretching exercises in the street; interlocking rings on manhole covers; bicycles on the ring roads, mercedes in the hutong.

year of the rat; rat maze at xizhimen; meet me at guloudajie … zhangzizhonglu … huixinxijie nankou; meet me in electric dreams; the suspended athletic body looks like advertising; who is really the literary fool? sportsbabel visits homeshop! xiaojingchang 6; one degree of separation; vortextuality, but not a singularity; a lap around the stadium to light the torch; do you have fire? hongtashans in the night; a bundle of affects magically disappear like condensation at sunrise, or perhaps they are packed neatly into her designer suitcase.

eat every part of the animal; leave food on the table; mai dan, xie xie; don't drink the water! sick man of east asia; write the social present of intimate connection; who we are, who we are not; chubby girl rendered invisible, pretty girl rendered mute; ethical culture exhibits; design, style, art, projects, spaces, bargains made; bargaining with the shopkeeper; RMByuan¥kuài, seven to the CDNdollar$buck, more or less; pretty currency; pretty clothes; uniforms on every corner.

curious eyes, anime eyes, surveillant eyes; but does that produced intensity even begin to approach the affective power of a delicately lowered pair of eyelids? hand moving through space; panhapticism; immanence of competition, end of the truce; wii would like to play, we don't have tickets; olympic education on the subway; polite chinese applause; obnoxious american catcalls; hygienic spaces; camouflaged anti-aircraft missiles; adjacent olympic disneyland; soldiers under a rainbow umbrella; kite or uav?

hit with the white part of the glove; the privilege of white skin; red silk, gold stars; blue skies! topological spaces; air conditioning; tsingtao and suan mei tang; murder; recognizing the laowai; children both shy and fearless; translation, mistranslation, smiling without voices; does it really matter? tonality, don't think in terms of romanization! a new iron curtain; public, private, third spaces; be a switch; but it wouldn't be a very honest emotion if you could turn it off like a switch.

knife-throwing remakes; archers on target; tracings of spent cigarette filters at a street party, of shaky hands blurring a digital memory, of athletes dancing within a ring or court; fluorescent lights dance by the taxi window; he wondered what life would have been like as a nomad or a new york artist; no introductions necessary; don't forget your identification; 1989; love as a political concept; for there is no end to the folly of the human heart; i [heart] china; ambiguity or clarity? zhongguo jia you! deleuze and guattari find speed in virilio's beijing; fastforward; realvirtual; striatedsmooth; wenming; remix; sweatsweatsweat; re:visioningversus; would that the comma were a semi-colon.

the last olympics.

zàijiàn ,.