urban gait surfing

a body-subject.
a subway station, shopping mall, stadium concourse.
crowd surfing through public space, vertically rather than horizontally as at a rock concert.

a memetic splice of parkour that constitutes a "performative critique" (cf. borden) of the moving bodies along an urban conduit.

Gait Surfing

the foldings of kinesis within a particular taxis.

finding smooth space within gait surveillance and the fluxes of the striated.
finding a shifting temporality of the several within a flow of multiplicity (cf. ettinger).

deleuze and guattari weren't totally correct: it is not necessarily about entering into an existing energetic system in and of itself, as much as it is riding the turbulent, frothy edge between signal and becoming-noise. in the case of gait surfing, there is an entering into the energetic system of the flow of pedestrian traffic, but this traffic is itself produced by the muscular energies of the individual body. we are still exerting a force within the striations of the urban environment: that is, the biomechanical leveraging of the musculoskeletal system towards a particular linear vector of production. but when examined intensively, this linear flow-in-theory has different internal paces, rhythms, deviations from normal gaits, errors, noise, speeds, purposes and objectives, cultural histories — and indeed, an entire erotics in its relationality to the unfoldings of the several.

it is these anomalies that constitute the minor perturbations in a flow that may thereafter become chaotic attractors and create turbulence (cf. delanda). we find in the aggregate from these perturbations in bodily locomotive style the corporeal jetwash or break point between signal and becoming-noise of the urban gait surfer.

mixtape of instrumental music. shared playlist, personal music player. match the music to the motion. an aesthetic headphone science. a psychogeographical hybrid of surfing logic and audio walking tour.

haptic as intersection between vision, touch and proprioception.
haptic as intersection of vibrations between audio and body.

as an urban pedagogy of the body we "consciously" become aware of our virtuality and virtuosity as practice and praxis: reflexively before and after, and affectively while surfing the wave.

Franchise: Player?


(proposal submitted to the 2009 apexart franchise competition for curated exhibition support)

Through my entire life as an athlete and artist, I have perceived a social binary dividing sport and art that I have found to be generally understood by both sides of the divide. Though there has been some artistic appreciation for the aesthetic qualities of the athletic body and its sporting pursuits, this art is largely of the heroic nature, that of mythic representation and nostalgia. There is no critical sport art. Or, more correctly, that which exists is diffused such that it is rarely assembled for group exhibition. Along with so many other works I am thinking about Jacques Julien's Ethylic, kanarinka's It Takes 154,000 Breaths to Evacuate Boston, Shaun Gladwell's Storm Sequence and Gustavo Artigas' The Rules of the Game.

A moebius strip of surveillance and spectacle in whose folding lies the athletic body and the poiesis of performance, contemporary sport is crucial to postindustrial economics and discourse. Thus, a critical sport art is not only aesthetically desirable but politically necessary. The challenge to the curator is to convey the large-scale sense of space demanded by the stadium while facilitating the intimacy required of a critical artistic work. I believe my portfolio of identities — athlete, artist and academic among them — would allow me to communicate such ideas about space, place, power and the athletic body as the curator of a critical sport art exhibition. At a crossroads of international sporting cultures, Toronto is an ideal location for this project — and apexart FRANCHISE support could help me realize my goal.

sense, experience, fascinance

Actually being a spectator at the events was probably the least of my experiences this summer in Beijing. Perhaps this is because I am already familiar with the codes and protocols of attending major sporting events at large-scale venues? Indeed, what interested me most about spectatorship at the Olympics were the additional layers of security required to enter any privileged space of live competition. Beyond that, the sports themselves were relatively modest affairs.

Olympic Spectatorship

This stood in contrast to the rest of my movements around the city, which always held a sense of fascinance for me as Beijing's codes and protocols, not to mention language, were always just-beyond-the-grasp-of-the-familiar-and-apprehendable. In this hyperattenuated sense of awareness, my nervous system was outered into a rhythmical co-resonance with the urban dynamism surrounding me at every turn. Once inside the stadium, however, with its partitions and conduits and familiar sign systems, that sense of fascinance (almost a seventh sense, really) was negated. This was not helped in the slightest by the sterility, understood multi-sensually, of the event space proper.

One makes a mistake by thinking that spectatorship is about watching an event solely with one's eyes. It is rather a fully embodied experience complementing vision with the roar of the fans, the smell of sweat and, most importantly, the tangible feel of being part of a crowd. This latter isn't necessarily suggesting the sense of touch; in fact, touch — think the discomfort of stadium seat on posterior or the accidental brushing of a stranger's arm on the armrest — seems something to be tolerated or avoided in this quasi-public space. But the affect of being in the crowd hangs thick in the air in a very haptic sense at a large scale sporting event (or rock concert, protest rally, etc.).

At least it should. And this is where the question of partisanship enters the affective experience: it is the desire-in-common of the crowd that gives the air its think, heavy feel. Spectators or media observers of sport often wonder about the effects of an athlete or team playing away from home in a hostile environment, but the question is flawed from the outset. Positive and negative poles of partisanship do not stand opposed to one another, but rather like a moebius strip they stand counter to the neutral. The intensity of the lived experience derived from partisanship during performance is equally beneficial to the visiting athlete or team in a hostile environment, even if a few invectives are being hurled in their direction through the process.

The real danger to the athlete is if the space is devoid of the thick affect of partisanship, in which case I would argue that play suffers in a non-trivial sense. This is even more true for the spectator: unable to participate in a meaningful way except through acts of partisanship, one is otherwise reduced to remote, sterile, even clinical appreciation of the performance at hand. This is how I would describe my experiences in Beijing at the Olympic venues I attended. Though I had decent seats, was with excellent company, and had the world's best athletes in front of me at the greatest sports pageant and spectacle of them all, there was something missing: the thick affect of the partisan.

Olympic Family

This was certainly not helped in the slightest by the vast swaths of seating left vacant — in prime locations, no less — by members of the "Olympic Family." Indeed, only family can be so present in its absence.

Experience is compounded of feeling and thought. Human feeling is not a succession of discrete sensations; rather memory and anticipation are able to wield sensory impacts into a shifting stream of experience so that we may speak of a life of feeling as we do a life of thought. It is a common tendency to regard feeling and thought as opposed, the one registering subjective states, the other reporting on objective reality. In fact, they lie near the two ends of an experiential continuum, and both are ways of knowing (Tuan, Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience, p. 10).

This perhaps best captures my experience of sport at the Olympic venues in Beijing: moving from the feeling end of the continuum in the city, with its heavy emphasis on anticipation, to the thinking end of the continuum in the clinical space of the stadium, what feeling remained heavily influenced by memory. And both were ways of knowing.

Conceptual Persona

Conceptual Persona

"[I]f moving forward, climbing, and descending are dynamisms of conceptual personae, then leaping like Kierkegaard, dancing like Nietzsche, and diving like Melville are others for philosophical athletes irreducible to one another. And if today our sports are completely changing, if the old energy-producing activities are giving way to exercises that, on the contrary, insert themselves on existing energetic networks, this is not just a change in the type but yet other dynamic features that enter a thought that 'slides' with new substances of being, with wave or snow, and turn the thinker into a sort of surfer as conceptual persona: we renounce then the energetic value of the sporting type in order to pick out the pure dynamic difference expressed in a new conceptual persona." — Deleuze and Guattari, What is Philosophy?, p. 71

constancy, relationality, opportunity

The professional sport industry — particularly those leagues that comprise the upper echelon of the sports-media capitalist hierarchy — presents a paradox when viewed relative to the flows of capital in other sectors of the global economy. In other industries that require large investments in fixed capital, such as automobile production, plants have increasingly (and rapidly) relocated to countries and cultures in which the costs of variable capital are lower: all that is solid melts into thin air, only to condense and solidify once again in the global south.

In sport, however, the primary product being manufactured is the live sporting spectacle, with its affective experience of the crowd-as-number situated within the multisensuality of the stadium environment proper. It is easy to lose sight of the live event's primacy given the intensity with which the sports industry has initiated joint production processes to manufacture immaterial outputs further downstream, such as television broadcasts or fantasy sport data streams. But it is the live event that creates the paradox for sporting capital mentioned above: the plant of professional sports production — the stadium in its myriad forms — cannot simply relocate to where the costs of variable capital are the lowest precisely because the site of production is simultaneously the site of consumption for a live event, an inseparability that characterizes few other industrial sectors.

Yankee Stadium

While capital desires unregulated flow and the immaterial outputs of sportocratic production also have their own flows and rhythms, at a less complex level of assembly sports events flow to varying degrees as well. Baseball, for example, is a sport that does not flow to a high degree: it is a series of discrete actions — pitch, hit, throw, out or run produced — that are linked together in a form of mutual agreement between all those present. In other words, the structural elements of the game in the sense of codified rules (whether verbally agreed upon or highly codified in written form) facilitate what we might term a weak flow that emerges from the closed nature of the sport. Despite the weak flow that is produced, the discrete elements of the game provide plenty of signifying breaks that may be recorded as metadata about the live event action, which forms the scorecards, boxscores and other archives of the game.

Basketball, on the other hand, is a far more open-ended, flowing sport. Rather than a loosely connected series of discrete events, the action in a basketball game generally oscillates back and forth along the court surface in a fairly consistent rhythmical fashion. Roughly speaking, it is the peaks and valleys of the oscillation curve as it unfolds in linear time that become the events that are marked for the archive — shot attempted, basket made, steal or turnover. Put differently, it forms a strong flow from which signifying breaks have been extracted, in an inversion of the relationship described with baseball.

This means that an event such as a scored basket has as its primary relationality that of the flow. In a pickup game of basketball that relationality is complemented by the game score being passed from one player to another by word of mouth. As we move to more organized, league forms of basketball, the internal coherence or relationality of the flow is supplemented by an external scoring, legitimating and archiving apparatus (referees, official scorer and timekeeper, standardized records). It is this supplementary dimension that forms the basis of the downstream joint production processes mentioned earlier.

As the archival information is "liberated" from the productive energies of the athletes on the field of play, it then enters a constellation of differential signification and relationality completely detached from the flow of that particular game. The basket becomes an entry in a database that may form relationships with an overall "official" score, with other baskets by the same player, with a graphic overlay on a television broadcast, or with a consumer's fantasy league ranking. In baseball, with its weak flow of manufactured relationality, this liberation is not a particularly violent process, but in open-ended sports of strong flow like basketball the violence is far more pronounced.

Whether open or closed, the violence of the immaterial and its disruption of flux is most pronounced in the upper echelons of the sports hierarchy. This is due to the immense salaries that professional athletes are capable of earning — particularly relative to workers in other industrial sectors — as professional sport demands a highly specialist form of labour. Furthermore, the global competition for this talent has heightened dramatically over the past several decades as the number of consumer markets capable of sustaining a domestic professional league has expanded and the financial stakes involved in fielding a successful franchise have increased. Since the sporting capitalist is prevented from relocating the sporting plant to wherever variable capital is the cheapest, one must instead seek world-class specialist labour more cheaply from around the globe and bring it to the site of the stadium. We need only consider the examples of the English Premier League importing association football players from Africa, Major League Baseball importing athletic labour from Japan, or the Russian professional basketball league importing female players from the United States to realize how fully the migration of athletes permeates across sports, cultures, genders and economic vectors.

Given the fixed seating capacity of a stadium and the relative price elasticity of demand for sports tickets, the revenues required to cover rising salary expenses must come from elsewhere. One way of doing this is to increase the number of production runs at the plant, or in this case, to play more games. While there are usually more free dates at the stadium that could be used for live event manufacture, we cannot truly dissociate the athletes themselves from our understanding of plant in the sports industry.

As Michael Hardt has suggested, there is a dialectic between labourer and capitalist in which collective resistance by the former eventually leads to automation efforts by the latter. But professional sport resists such explicit forms of automation as robotic production since it is the athlete him/herself that is the object of fascination and desire. Instead, the professional athlete becomes a hybrid between labour and capital, with standardized techniques of discipline, expensive surgeries and other medical modalities such as oxygen chambers, as well as databased methods of probability and simulation helping to intensify production. Nonetheless, there remains a certain point after which the organic body provides diminishing returns in terms of the number of production runs (played games) completed by the firm.

Instead, we find that the sporting capitalist is forced to increase immaterial joint production efforts to cover these rising salary costs. While this doesn't explain the "origin" of immaterial output in the sports industry, it does provide us one way of understanding the intensity with which sign-value must be extracted from the immaterial. Put another way, the sporting capitalist requires a growing intellectual property (data-object) turnover ratio in order to maintain the same level of surplus-value earned over time. But it also suggests that the relationality of the data-object as it is violently detached from the site of sporting poiesis and entered into other sign systems must be targeted in any praxis by the sporting multitude, insofar as it simultaneously targets the alienation experienced by the consumer-worker, rather than solely that of the producer-worker.

Pedagogy of Inclination, No.1: Photography

Eadweard Muybridge and Jules Marey are known as pioneering figures in two disciplines that at first glance appear diametrically opposed. The first is cinema, which represents the body by capturing light on series of film stills and then running these stills sequentially. The second is biomechanics, which breaks down the holistic understanding of the body into constituent parts that may be isolated, measured, rationalized and optimized.

If Muybridge and Marey were the pioneers in taking apart the body through the use of stroboscopic imagery, then should we not use their work as a starting point to reverse the process or reconstitute a holistic understanding of the moving body?


Eadweard Muybridge, Animal Locomotion Plate 99, 1887

Since Muybridge's photos are in the public domain, consider the following a learning object to help teach biomechanics better or at least differently to kinaesthetic learners (cf. Howard Gardner's multiple intelligences theory). The goal is to achieve an experiential holistic biomechanics, which would seem to be oxymoronic, as the entire project of biomechanics involves the instrumental fragmentation of the body into quantifiable component parts.

Phase 1

Take the Muybridge photo and cut it back once again into segments. The segments are presented randomly to the subject, who must then reassemble them into the original photo — that is, in linear sequential fashion. Haptic feedback may "guide" the segments into their correct positions.

Pedagogy of Inclination 1

Phase 2

The subject must reassemble the photo in timed fashion, with the goal to achieve a personal best time. Upon completion, the segments light up sequentially with a green corona, unless the photo was placed incorrectly, in which case the corona would light up red.

Pedagogy of Inclination 2

Phase 3

Segment photos are displayed randomly, with a countdown timer ticking downwards. Subject must drag segments onto a filmstrip timeline. Once completed, pressing the "play" button begins an animation of the filmstrip that reconstitutes the original body motion.

Muybridge Timeline

Phase 4

Thereafter, the subject must embody the same motion portrayed in the Muybridge photo as a corporeal, lived experience. The phenomenon of movement must be documented meticulously as a personal narrative in a journal.

Phase 5

After performing and documenting the movement as described in Phase 4, it will be performed once again for representation by the same stroboscopic photography technique that Muybridge used to capture his subjects. The angle of inclination, focal distance, frame rate, etc. should all as closely as possible approximate the original settings that Muybridge used in his studio.

Once this burst photo is taken it will be similarly segmented as at the beginning of the exercise such that Phases 1-3 may be repeated, but this time with the subject in the role of the object being visually reconstituted.

Phase 6

Finally, the subject will document in narrative form the connections and disconnections between the proprioceptive memory of experientially performing the particular movement, its representation in photography, and the holistic biomechanical act of reconstituting one's own motion. These narratives may provide the basis for a group discussion that then may or may not be linked to more positivist biomechanical questions related to anatomy, vectors of force, gait analysis, etc.

* * *

The title Pedagogy of Inclination borrows both in content and as a play on words from the work of Paolo Freire, who wrote, among his many works, Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Pedagogy of Indignation. In the first, his seminal work, Freire proposes a critical pedagogy in which freedom can only be wrested from the oppressor by taking ownership of language and striking a praxis-oriented balance between reflection and action.

The goal of the action outlined above is to strike a balance between the metaphorically inclined or recumbent subject and the inclination of the camera that would render that body a data-object. By wresting a proprioceptive understanding of the body's movements from the dominant optics that would otherwise break it down into components, one might further develop a physical literacy in which the oppression of the visual bias may be translated into tactility through reflection and action.