spectacle, enclosure, togetherness

"Today, in the era of the complete triumph of the spectacle, what can be reaped from the heritage of Debord? It is clear that the spectacle is language, the very communicativity or linguistic being of humans. This means that a fuller Marxian analysis should deal with the fact that capitalism (or any other name one wants to give the process that today dominates world history) was directed not only toward the expropriation of productive activity, but also and principally toward the alienation of language itself, of the very linguistic and communicative nature of humans, of that logos which one of Heraclitus's fragments identified as the Common. The extreme form of this expropriation of the Common is the spectacle, that is, the politics we live in. But this also means that in the spectacle our own linguistic nature comes back to us inverted. This is why (precisely because what is being expropriated is the very possibility of a common good) the violence of the spectacle is so destructive; but for the same reason the spectacle retains something like a positive possibility that can be used against it." — Giorgio Agamben, The Coming Community, p. 80

iwishi, olympian

"It is essential at any rate that the human community comes to be defined here, in contrast to the animal community, through a living together that is not defined by the participation in a common substance, but rather by a sharing that is purely existential, a con-division that, so to speak, lacks an object: friendship, as the con-sentiment of the pure fact of being. Friends do not share something (birth, law, place, taste): they are shared by the experience of friendship. Friendship is the con-division that precedes every division, since what has to be shared is the very fact of existence, life itself. And it is this sharing without an object, this original con-senting, that constitutes the political." — Giorgio Agamben, What is an Apparatus?, p. 36

Split in Time

Beijing Fireworks

We have noted that the Beijing Olympic Games, and in particular the Opening Ceremonies, most fully realized a stereoscopic aesthetic with no distinction recognized between real and virtual spaces. But it also bears mention that the specific example of the fireworks which punctuated the lighting of the Olympic Torch suggested an opening to complement the closing or tangential touching of the two spatial layers. While the temporal length of each fireworks sequence — both the computer-generated version shown on television and the material version exploded in the physical area surrounding the Beijing National Stadium proper — was of the same duration and run in synchronized form, in fact a rupture or split in time was introduced.

As Siegfried Zielinski suggests, if we are able to speak of a metaphysics of communication perhaps it is because its basis can be located in its time-based character: media, above all, capture time and fold it within its communicative process. We cannot step out of time, but rather only objectify and structure it, as each successive phase of capitalism makes increasingly apparent.

While emerging from vastly different eras in the depths of media history, fireworks, television, and CGI graphics may each be considered a form of writing or inscribing with light against a remote perspectival backdrop. But the ways in which each of these forms of writing captures time are radically different. The material substrate of fireworks-based writing — gunpowder and other pyrotechnic fuels — possesses a chemical ignition or burn rate that is temporally distinct from the time in which a television signal is transmitted and written to screen, or in which computer processor chips may render the graphics of optically-convincing bursts of coloured fire.

Though the spectacular outcome lasted an equivalent number of seconds for each audience, the chemical and digital inscriptions each folded time in separate ways. So while on the one hand we can suggest that during the twentieth century spectacle industrialized the compression of information in a spatial sense, and on the other hand we can suggest that the multiple cuts into the time of a video reel creates a narcotic effect for the viewer, perhaps we ought to consider the two together and suggest that narcosis is equally possible with a compression of information in a temporal sense, one that is unique for each member of the viewing audience.

Five Olympiads Later

(why do we find additional meaning or significance in round, often base-ten anniversaries?)


Sunny Day

Giorgio Agamben, The Coming Community:

"Love is never directed toward this or that property of the loved one (being blond, being small, being tender, being lame), but neither does it neglect the properties in favor of an insipid generality (universal love): The lover wants the loved one with all of its predicates, its being such as it is. The lover desires the as only insofar as it is such — this is the lover's particular fetishism" (p.2).

* * *

"Whatever singularity, which wants to appropriate belonging itself, its own being-in-language, and thus rejects all identity and every condition of belonging, is the principal enemy of the State. Wherever these singularities peacefully demonstrate their being in common there will be a Tiananmen, and, sooner or later, the tanks will appear" (p.87).


In America, Jean Baudrillard suggested that the mirror phase had "given way" to the video phase and the contemporary era of the screen image. But have we not changed again, reverted back to the mirror or at least mutated into a new hybrid of mirror and video?

There is a model for what we are attempting to describe here: the two-way mirror so adored by psychology practice. As children we play in these special rooms while the medical gaze and its recording devices sit quietly behind the silvered glass. Eventually, we learn of the duplicity, not unlike those moments in which we discover the fictions that are Santa Claus, Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, and Michael Jackson's whiteness. Whenever in the same situation again, we are subconsciously aware of the mirror and wonder what lurks on the other side.

The regime of the screen intensifies, both in quantity and quality. The sheer number of screens increases beyond even that which Baudrillard could imagine. There is a viral proliferation of the screenal, vectoring beyond home (television) and work (computer) to infect every public space (monitor, jumbotron, electronic billboard, arcade game, etc.), and even the very flows of human movement themselves (laptop, PDA, cellphone).

But the nature of the input interface has changed as well, "democratized," a contagion of interactivity to match the proliferation of the screenal. Now we are all "creators," all able to see ourselves extended into the data networks of the ludic-virtual. In other words, all complicit in the creation of a new mirror — a slightly kaleidoscopic mirror, mind you — but one that captivates us like Narcissus long beyond that mirror phase of childhood.

Like the two-way sort used in psychology, however, this new era of the interactive is at once mirror and screen, at once opportunity for enclosed self-contemplation and open performance. For we all know what lurks behind the silvering of this new mirror and that is the gaze: sometimes manifest as benevolent glance and sometimes as cold, clinical, unblinking stare. Always performance.

Narcissus never suspected that Echo was swimming below the surface of the pool, but we know better.

* * *

There is a certain congruency here with videogames that allow one to toggle between first- and third-person perspectives. Vilém Flusser discusses the difference between line and surface and its implications for perception and thought, but, writing before the videogame revolution, neglects to consider the volumetric. All three appear in the planar form, but since Flusser distinguishes between line and surface, or text and image, it seems important to understand that the videogame is also of an altogether different character, for one actually enters its non-space to control the avatar during one's play.

This is not the same as a three-dimensional setting being reduced to the two-dimensional planar surface through perspectival optics, as with photography, film or television. In that case, one's vision identifies strictly with the point-of-view of the camera and one must imagine the depth of field that is represented on the surface. With the contemporary videogame, on the other hand, there is literally a three-dimensional non-space that has been mathematically modeled "behind" the screen. While the screen thus appears as a site of reduction, this is not due to the nature of cognitive engagement with this non-space, for we are continually monitoring multiple points-of-view as our bodily expertise increases in these ludic environments.

Admittedly, an entire history of static versus scrolling versus spatial gameplay environments needs to be told here, but suffice it to say that the emergence of the ludic subject from the primordial digital ooze of the surface to become volume is the most significant challenge to perception and thought since the invention of photography.

The split of the two-way silvering between mirror and screen is perhaps one way to understand this challenge to perception and thought, manifest in the ludic environment as the ability to instantaneously switch between the subject and object, between the I/je/? and the one/on/??? pronoun positions.

What of the you/tu/??

This was the opening in which wii would like to play // we don't have tickets found its niche. In "sprinting" the videogame 100-metre dash against a local, embodied competitor there was an explicit engagement with the you/tu/? at the nexus of I/je/? and one/on/??? positions. No, people didn't actually run, but yes, they did flail their arms, breathe heavy, and perhaps even shed a bead of sweat. No, people didn't face each other, but yes, through a Japanese interface both Chinese and English engaged amicably, not in translation but rather as a mediation.

And yes, in the process a temporary we/nous/?? was established: a micropolitics of the social body that first began with a politics of the moving and sensing animal body.

(a work-in-process between elaine w. ho and sean smith towards "17 days in beijing: screen of consciousness on the micropolitical," a text for public issue 40)

time, biorhythms, socius

Timetable - HomeShop

Starting with a grid and a timeline, a certain series of Events align themselves on a planar network. These Events have been a topic of discussion for quite some time now, and in the downward ticking of imminent certainty, it becomes calm again; preparatory activities come to a close, exteriors are hastily shined and construction sites moved to interiors, or we ourselves have left the premises, fearing the heated Spectacle to come. Yet despite the structure of the grid and the timetable and the past years of meticulous planning (they have replaced and re-installed new litter bins on our street twice since the winter), there is still something a little more than abstract about these Eights, and that little something rests, for most of us, on the issue of accessibility. Are you going to the Olympics? And to turn the question around, whether or not we are granted access, what has the imposition of the Games taken from us?

(from the call for participation text, homeshop series number one: games 2008)

* * *

The earliest call for participation and proposal text for the HomeShop project made explicit through word and image the desire to juxtapose the formal timetables of the Olympic Games with the more rhythmic sense of time and indeterminacy found in Xiaojingchang Hutong, and in that modest attempt lies quite a significant interrogation of power.

It is one thing to suggest that television has substantial implications for the collective biopower of the athletes, but quite another when one considers the sheer number of broadcasters involved in the worldwide transmission of the Olympic Games and how this magnifies the problem. NBC, the American host broadcaster, paid such an exorbitant sum for the domestic rights to show the Games that it had the bargaining power to demand certain events in Beijing conform to broadcast timetables in the United States. Swimming was of such importance to the American viewing public — particularly since Michael Phelps would be questing for eight gold medals — that NBC demanded the swimming finals be held first thing in the morning Beijing time so that they would be available live to a U.S. prime-time audience. This has substantial implications for the biorhythms of elite swimmers, who normally swim final events in the evening.

It is AC Nielsen, whose screenal day runs from 06:00 to 29:59 EST, that controls the regime of contemporary sporting biopolitics!

No lap around the sun, this, but rather a crepuscular dawn.

On the other hand, we have the very local rhythms of Xiaojingchang Hutong. Not only was the timetable of HomeShop very loosely arranged and articulated, with Beijing-based artists and local community residents arriving for formal events or dropping by to informally chat, but the biorhythms of the interpersonal were also more presently at the fore. This may have been manifest in any number of ways: through the weather, the heat, the sharing of water or suan mei tang (traditional Chinese plum juice); through the lighting of cigarettes for another or the musical stylings of DJ Mellow Yellow; through the staccato hesitations of translation between Chinese and English or the frustrated haltings in absence of such translation.

All part of a flow — not the regulated flow of the Olympic timetable and its conduits of tourist passage, public transit and commercial exchange, but the micro-flow of the neighbourhood, those swirling eddies in the liminal space where public and private bleed into one another, and whose non-linear dynamics create the potential for threshold events to occur (cf. DeLanda).

I mention this because the indeterminacies fostered by HomeShop and its local sense of time created quite a wonderful outcome as it related to the Loser's Party and the wii would like to play // we don't have tickets event. Quite unintentionally, we competed with the wii videogame version of the 100-metre dash to see who could be the most average competitor at the very same time that Usain Bolt ran the fastest 100-metre sprint in human history. This would be sacrilege to the political economy of speed, if only we didn't know it would happen again in four years' time!

And here, the local "timetable" created the athletic biorhythms from which a socius emerged.

(a work-in-process between elaine w. ho and sean smith towards "17 days in beijing: screen of consciousness on the micropolitical," a text for public issue 40)

Screen: Content to Context

Yes, the Opening Ceremonies were perhaps one of the most elaborately crafted exercises in narrative and mass consumption ever constructed, a logistics of perception meticulously designed to captivate each member of the worldwide audience: the Four Great Inventions and Parade of Nations as tele-colonial act. But this does not, nor cannot, tell the whole story.

Generally speaking, one's options within Beijing on 08.08.08 were to either watch on television in the privacy of one's own home alone or with a handful of family and friends; watch at one of the state-controlled, corporate-sponsored public viewing areas; or not watch at all. The outdoor quasi-public viewing area in the hutong with HomeShop provided an alternative to these options. One could say that it was simply a scaled-down version of one of the public viewing areas scattered around the city, but this misses the subtle nuances of difference.

Courtesy of Jeroen deKloet + HomeShop

Once the neighbours realized what was unfolding, it seemed to me that the opening ceremonies at HomeShop became a very collaborative DIY event. So many people wanted to contribute, whether it was in buying beer for the party, sharing marinated peanuts brought from home, serving watermelon and tidying up afterwards, or performing a very local history of the hutong (the fool!). And I would argue that the subsequent events hosted by HomeShop during its 17 days wouldn't have had the same traction with the neighbours — either in explicit participation or as a tacit acceptance of outsiders occupying local space — were it not for that initial encounter with an optics of familiarity (television) coupled with a haptic and supple molecular form that was not too small (isolated in living room) nor too large (the mass of the public viewing area).

(Certainly the dynamism of the Loser's Party and the wii would like to play // we don't have tickets event would have been drastically different in that case.)

At the same time the scale of the HomeShop public viewing cannot be disconnected from the fact that this was one of the most-watched television broadcasts in human history and hence the desire to be in the hutong to begin with. So while it is evident that the intimate nature of HomeShop's public viewing served as a catalyst for what might be described as a temporary autonomous zone, there is a need to interrogate this micropolitical space on a sliding spatiotemporal scale from global to local — not smaller or larger, but both/and — or at least read it stereoscopically as an experience of here and now.

(a work-in-process between elaine w. ho and sean smith towards "17 days in beijing: screen of consciousness on the micropolitical," a text for public issue 40)