Tech Ass In Gear

Event Scenes

Tech Ass In Gear

As I went along the street where I live, I was suddenly gripped by a rhythm which took possession of me…It was as though someone were making use of my living-machine. Then another rhythm overtook and combined with the first, and certain strange transverse relations were set up between these two principles… They combined the movement of my walking legs and some kind of song I was murmuring or rather which was being murmured through me…
– Paul Valery

In America, we have a peculiar mode of rhythmic embodiment called the “power walk.” Head held high, arms thrusting outward repeatedly in conjunction with the beat of the moving legs, hair and breasts abounce, one propels oneself along the street in jerky, fast-motion paces as in an old silent film. Going nowhere in particular, often sheathed in garish, logo-strewn activewear, one in/habits the gym – a fitness club no longer a place so much as a set of notions of what it means to be physically adequate in society. Unpack the prevailing concept of fitness [gasp] and there you have it, the body moving [gasp] in conjunction with the social and technical machine [gasp], according to formats of productivity, efficiency, and adequacy. What are the beats? To focus on visual codes is to miss them.

I want to consider exercise as a marker of rhythmic operations, in which the body is immersed as agent and incorporant, within general conditions of making processes, forms, circuits, and capacities adequate to emerging regimes of fitness. And lest one think that notions of fitness are not in keeping with the body’s virtualization, and necessarily serve to privilege a singly corporealized entity, I would like to point out that in all cases of body-subject-interface encounters, no matter how virtual, we are speaking of a newly mobilized body, and a subjectivity constituted within formats of movement, across hybrid transport-transmission landscapes. (Landscapes traversed in terms of the transfer of weight over land and the transmission of embodied presence through the network). The body in motion, subject to notions of efficient and adequate movement, contours and sediments itself through circuits and cycles of repetition, in whatever degree of corporeality or virtuality. Even on the (arguably) fully physical side of the spectrum, the days when one’s meatself is docked at the monitor are coming to an end, and emerging cultural practices would do well to take this mobilization into account. The formats and codes of the interface register and facilitate these cycles, and the movements and processes of embodiment to which they are attached.

The newly mobilized body, bedecked in gadgetry — portable arrays of devices, either attached externally or implanted internally. How sexy. Consider a simple, early gadget: the walkman, with which one powerwalks. Sitting next to the early mainframe radio or phonograph, to what extent did one forget about one’s body, necessarily parked within range of the machine? The interface as it stands, as it makes one stand, as it arrests one and places one in a holding-pattern, always lays the seeds for mobilization. A preparatory state for new sites of embodiment, patterns of mobility, and formats of enunciation. It facilitates arrays of localizations that link together in new presences. It is a peculiar site of exercise. And not just in terms of the obvious hand-eye coordinations via the mouse, but in terms of the way its formats are internalized in larger patterns of movement. Here is where we can locate the emerging paradigm of the database, and consider its effects. But at the same time: the interface marks the site of the arrested body’s integration into the machine, into machinic operations that have larger societal links and consequences — indeed, which rest upon entire social apparatuses of fitness, efficiency, adequacy.

Consider the finger-scanner, now available as an option on the purchase of a new computer — installed on the keyboard itself, to the left of the Shift key, or in some models, right on the mouse. A new form of fingering! But even more: one agent of an entire emerging economy of authentication, based on the incorporation of biological patterns into virtualized constructs, formatted according to emerging database conventions. The “fingered” body is represented, is seen, its movements recorded and internalized, through the mechanisms of the database (even on the basic level of the “cookie”). How do these formats augment traditional, cinematic norms of movement representation — that is, the set of conventions through which the world of movement has come to be known? For movement is no longer seen as much as processed — or rather, it is represented by way of its processing. On one hand, the format of the database floats above the cinematic image-field, combining with it to generate a new kind of moving image, a “machine-image.” One can even revisit the history of the moving image in terms of movement processing: think of proto-powerwalker Charlie Chaplin in these terms, especially in his struggles to keep up with the demands of the machine in Modern Times. And, again, one can think movement in terms of the immobilizations that it locates. After all, it was Serge Daney who reminded us that the set of movement-conventions that is cinema only took hold via the public’s immobilization in theaters, arrested and held in thrall by the screen.

Such a public is today an animated and tracked public. Harnessed to new technological assemblages and driven by processing imperatives, machine-images track movements as representation. Tracking is the way in which one sees and is seen by the image. Informed by the organizational paradigm of the database, tracking formats an “improved,” more productive and efficient form of vision. It protects one — informationally and corporeally — from an “outside” unprocessed reality that is increasingly constituted as dangerous. (One could even see database reality as involved in the production of danger, and the equation of danger with unreliability). Such a body, whether in flesh or networked mode, incorporates fitness as the erasure of any threat to efficient, fast, and reliable flows. The mobilized powerwalker, suburban Borg, glides down the street in this kind of protective bubble — a provisional encasing that helps to define a subjective interior.

A movement constituted through patterns of repetition, enmeshed in circuits, harnessed to social and technical machines. What better way of envisioning the exercise video — One! Two! Three! — and the body-database? In either case, counting equals accounting for, and the body is formatted through arrays of variables and calculations. Movement configures as a kind of statistical articulation. Based on behavior and preference data, as tracked, abstracted, and aggregated in the database, X might, for example, show a 59.6% propensity to move towards Y. As individuals and groups are processed, the public configures as a calculus of manageable interests, opinions, patterns, and functions. This ever more precise and “protective” statistical ventriloquization — stretching over speech like a prophylactic or over pumped-up flesh like spandex — becomes an authentic voice of the people. A marker of speech and presence, a way in which the public is heard and made visible. The machine-image — the exercise-interface — is thus a politicized field of incorporation and identification, marking a network through which social identities and embodied forms are signaled and enacted.

In the face of this crisis in the visual, emerging sites of operation occur in the proliferating arrays of devices harnessed to machine-images the way that remote-control devices are attached to television screens. They are like free-weights or the fitness calculators that interface body and machine and measure their compatibility, often resulting in the body’s rates to be adjusted in accordance with prevailing fitness norms. Increasingly, such devices — in conjunction with their machine-images — serve as switch-points between interior and exterior rhythms, which they regulate and convey. The interface always points to such a device, as it traffics between motivations and mobilities. Through them, private and public realms, behaviors and built realities, exchange, encode, and format one another.

Movement is inextricably bound up in technological capacities and imperatives. Wherever there is a movement, there is a machine. Exercise always happens in symbiosis with the machine, according to rhythms that it incorporates and emits. You don’t relate signs when you exercise, as you do when you read and your body just (apparently) sits there immobilized. You coordinate your rhythms and movements to those you hear, feel, or sense proprioceptively, in order to “get in shape.” The body configures as a locus of rhythmic operations, as an active process of incorporation and coordination with machines both technical and social. To think in terms of coordinations, as much as in relations, is to begin to understand emerging potentials for interventions within the field of the interface — the machine for moving. A logistics lurks in the most basic of routines.

Jordan Crandall is director of the X Art Foundation, New York, founding editor of Blast, and Visiting Professor at the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris. He is currently developing his first solo museum exhibition, to open in November 1999 in Graz, Austria, curated by Peter Weibel.