violet, the colour purple

Flesh-Gesture-Language Wheel

purple: "a color circle based on spectral wavelengths will appear with red at one end of the spectrum and violet at the other, and with a wedge-shaped gap representing colors which have no unique spectral frequency; these extra-spectral colors, the purples, are rather formed by the additive mixture of colors from the two ends of the spectrum."

violet: "because i want … to. i've wanted to ever since i saw you that day in the elevator. i know you don't believe me, but i can prove it to you. you can't believe what you see. but you can believe … what you feel. i've been thinking about you all day." (bound, 1996)

(why is the body the lacuna at the centre of this optical system?)

comma, garçon

Pain and intensity

One of the most important components of sport and physical culture, yet continuously one of the least considered, is the pain one experiences both during and after the embodied becoming of athletic poiesis. To some degree, however small, participating will always hurt. Degree, or intensity, is important here: this pain should be considered on a spectrum from the simple lactic acid soreness one gets from overly taxing the muscles during a workout, to the small tears that appear in muscle fibres from stretching them beyond their current state of elasticity, to the bruises resulting from elbows and other sundry collisions in a basketball game, to the more acute injuries such as sprained ankles or dislocated fingers or broken bones, to the severest sporting traumas requiring surgical intervention.

adidas, threshold

Wherever it may be located on the spectrum, this pain may be variably distasteful or pleasurable, depending upon the context and the relation. But the intensity makes itself present nonetheless, periodically returning as if an old friend or a musical motif that weaves into the soundtrack of one's life. Make no doubt: pain is a marker of memory.

Pain remembers pain.

The anesthesia of telesthesia

At what point does capital enter or infuse this spectrum of pain? There is certainly a qualitative difference between the pain of lifting weights at the gym or a yoga class, on the one hand, and the ruptured ACL of a professional football quarterback that requires surgical intervention on the other. Generally speaking, this difference in the quality of intensity emerges as a question of scale in the assemblage that is the body athletic: have the fibres and connective tissues been severed or ruptured at a microcellular level or at a more complex macro-scale?

But there is also a structural difference between the conditions that led to the pain and the forms of intervention (rest, surgery) required to heal the injured parts of the body. We witness a capitalist imperative in football, for example, that yields to increased speed and size in players, more violent collisions and subsequent injuries, and the becoming-commonplace of surgical interventions to return the cyborg athletes to full operational status as soon as possible — such that an asset does not become unprofitable or a labourer does not risk losing a job.

Saved By Technology

The athletic subject undergoing a surgical procedure is administered an anaesthetic before the operation such that the pain cannot be felt, for once a threshold of intensity is crossed on the spectrum of pain, any sort of pleasure leads to pure agony and trauma. (Is this commensurate with the risks of absolute deterritorialization that Deleuze and Guattari warn against?) One does not even want to approach such a threshold again and the narcosis must be welcomed. In doing so, however, one also opens up the possibility for another (the administrator of the medical gaze) to cut, sever and otherwise realign the structural fibres and relational flows of one's animal body.

Is this so unlike the narcosis that the sports fan embodies when integrated with the networked media-entertainment apparatus? Archives of statistical data, the tracking-images of surveillance and spectacle, and the algorithmic engines of machinic intelligence form a different assemblage with the professional athlete, one that allows a vicarious participation rather than an inert spectatorship. Sports television and videogames are crucially founded upon this principle: if one has experienced at some point the pain of athletic poiesis then the simulation becomes acceptable insofar as its non-touch may represent some never-felt new pain.

Put differently, nostalgia in sport assumes a different meaning as it becomes less about experiencing an idyllic past that has been lost to progress and rather about allowing us to remember a history of our own pain without actually having to submit to its intensity once again. We allow a class of worker-athletes to experience the touch of pain for us instead, which we then consume in mediated and narcotic form. We cut, sever and otherwise realign the structures and flows of this singular-plural body in the process. Flesh intimacy yields to data intimacy, never to return.

Pain remembers pain, then, but perhaps memory hurts memory as well.

Touch and its return

What are the structural conditions of possibility governing memory? This very contemporary question seems to be a matter of determining what technical apparatus is both generated by and interfaced with the human body, does it not? But it is also a matter of the flesh. Where do technical apparatus and flesh meet on Chris Marker's sunless visual horizon? Where do they meet Jonathan Crary's ruminations on the struggle between the collective flesh of the multitude and military-techno-capital over the right to sleep and dream?

Threat Alert Graffiti, NYC

unknown artist
street mural, lower east side, new york city
november, 2009

How long does the perfume linger on the lapel of a man's wool jacket? How long does an image from the eye of Marker's camera flicker in the eye of that same man's memory? How does Marker's Sans Soleil resonate with Crary's reflections on sleep, capital, and the sensations of always-on digitality? As pain and memory most assuredly weave into one another in a very fleshy or visceral way, we might also reconsider how it is that we dream in and of the flesh in the age of ubiquitous data and light-networks.

For what if it was all a dream sequence, anyways? Or what if the whole thing was digital and the perfume was but a simulacrum fashioned from the archival bits of a hundred late-night B-movies and a thousand trendy style magazines scattered across the subway stations of Tokyo?

Digital, touching: will flesh intimacy return? Erin Manning writes:

My gesture toward you is a momentary one. There is no touch that can last beyond the first moment of contact. To touch longer, I must touch again: as my focus shifts elsewhere, my skin soon forgets to acknowledge yours. To touch me, you must return the touch to and from yourself in an ongoing process of exchange. Because it is temporary and immediate, the gesture is never more than momentary. This is a political moment in the most ethical sense, for it demands a continual re-articulation rather than a subsuming into the same. If I attempt to subsume you through touch, I will not reach you. Instead, I will inflict the worst kind of violence upon your body: your body will act only as the recipient of my directionality. Your body will become prey. If, instead, I acknowledge the ephemerality of the gesture, I risk an opening toward [what Agamben refers to as] "the sphere of ethos of the most proper sphere of that which is human" (Politics of Touch, p. 60).

The layout of this particular photo spread appears hip, gritty, underground chic. As they have faced each other in the past across the basketball court or over the dinner table, so too do photographer and model face each other now, standing on opposite platforms of the subway, she to take the A train uptown while he will hop the southbound line to Kreuzberg. But this time the vector of becoming is important: the two train lines are headed in opposite directions. Antagonism and relational aesthetics and an eerie silence. One cannot help but laugh at what is either the cheapest of metaphors or perhaps the formulaic ending to this particular B-movie.

Medusa laughs, at any rate. Or is it Capital? The hour is late, too late, it has been statistically determined, to run frequent and profitable service on these particular public transit lines: there are no trains on the horizon. The two stare at each other across the empty tracks. Their gaze lingers, lingers for too long and then some, lingers for what becomes an uncomfortably interminable period of time. Where is the goddamned train?

The banality of this moment has become spectacular! Or, maybe the cinematic spectacle has been rendered banal by the rhythms and perturbations of capital in flux. He cannot be certain either way.

But certainly a space has been opened by this uncomfortable duration, a space in which the relational fibres come to the fore as units of analysis once again, as with the embodiment of athletic poiesis discussed at the outset of this memoir. Though we are describing here a micropolitics of intersubjectivity, as with before this "micro" begs the question of scale: At what level of embodiment does the trauma appear? Have the relational fibres been stretched, bruised, or severed? Will they be subsumed within the worst kind of violence inflicted upon a body? How will they heal?

Once again he cannot be certain. After all, pain remembers pain.


June, 2007: The sleep comes, but it is the fragmented, delirious sleep of a man with dengue fever. Tortured sleep. Rivulets of sweat flow into tributaries of liquid linen. Shards of disconnected thought mosaic the global electronic conscious and the matrix of the unconscious. Material and immaterial bridge centuries of temporality. Experiences gained and lost.

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.

Spy Mission

On Performing the University of Disaster (an interlude)

Mission Orders from the Colonel

If you think the Spy should accept the mission, click here.
If you think the Spy should ignore the Colonel, click here.


In the age of the integrated spectacle (cf. Agamben), few of the static two-dimensional images that are presented to us in the course of everyday life — magazine ads, billboards, posters, direct mailings, and the like — are in fact truly depthless artefacts. Rather, they are the result of careful processes in which part-objects have been layered on top of one another, grouped together, and transformed in various ways before being flattened out to the final "static" image.

Generally speaking, these part-objects may be either textual elements or other image elements, that is, the fundamental building blocks of Flusser's line and surface thinking. The graphic design software that facilitates the creation of this final flattened image retains within the file all of the meta-information about each of these part-objects in terms of position, understood as the x-y coordinates of grid plane and the z-index of layer — in other words, the file contains the relations that existed between each part-object before flattening took place.

wii would like to play - we don't have tickets, courtesy of HomeShop

But a skilled and experienced designer doesn't need the original file to understand the relations that created the final image. Simply by assessing the visual outcome in the context of embodied memory, one is able to unlayer and reconstitute that which has been usurped of its depth in its rendering-spectacular.

The complexity of the spectacular apparatus increases as we move from the processed image into the realm of cinema and television and literally introduce motion to the process. Chion identifies new building blocks that are added to the image and text within the two-dimensional frame, most importantly the audio elements of speech and field sound captured during recording, and the music and sound effects added in post-production. To the moving image we also add the graphic overlay, a visual element that may be static or animated and which is visually distinct from the images that have been captured by the camera during filming. These overlays are increasingly connected to external (relational) databases in the specific example of television, as with statistics during a sports broadcast or with the latest quotes on a news channel stock market ticker.

Nonetheless, the experienced director or video editor may similarly be able to quickly apprehend after the fact the layers and corresponding relations that produced the final cinematic outcome. In doing so, we may already understand that the layer is not a two-dimensional phenomenon, as Chion's inclusion of audio and acoustic space illustrates.

Global Village Basketball 2009 - courtesy of marcef33

Now consider those works that find smooth passage through categorical barriers identified variously as interventions, conceptual pieces, participation-oriented performances or community-based art projects. Three such examples, different though interrelated, might include Global Village Basketball, HomeShop, and wii would like to play // we don't have tickets. While these works were "framed" with more or less well-defined spatiotemporal parameters, they are most definitely of the realm of the volumetric and hence introduce new complexities to the apparatus.

Of course, with such events there is no "file" to which we have recourse for determining the layers and relations between the part-subjects that comprised their contextual fabric. As Massumi points out, they are ontogenetic. But, as with the processed static and moving video images described earlier, is it possible to unlayer the volumetric interactions of the intervention after the fact? Can we assess the audiovisual outcomes in the context of embodied memory and perhaps in the process identify new building blocks for the becoming-social each work facilitated, such as gesture, tango, translation, risk and exchange?

(a work-in-process between elaine w. ho and sean smith towards "unlayering the relational: microaesthetics and micropolitics," a text for the mediamodes art and technology conference in new york)

Preliminary Notes Toward a Concept of Kino-Gait

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

* * *

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.