Movement-Objects

Curator's Note

 Together with biological, cultural and technological viruses of all sorts, globalization has facilitated the exchange of another infectious bacillus: dance, or the choreographed tendency to follow a pattern of imitable steps. The digitalization of some of the most popular movements produced by the contemporary music, sport and entertainment industries has had a large influence on the movements of people at a global social scale. Several technologies of movement creation and distribution (Motion Capture, digital video editing, the Internet) are used in mass-media environments such as commercial videos and You Tube, generating and replicating what can be defined as ‘movement-objects’, digitally generated dance steps that are widely imitated and readapted. These objects have the possibility of infinite reanimation and ‘actualization’, a capacity of ‘clothing’ themselves with different physical qualities: the same movement can be endlessly repeated, becoming for example a football action or a dance step. The travelling of these steps, for example of a particular articulation, a particular raising and bending of the knee, from street dancing to sport, from soccer dribbling to breakdance top rocks, shows them as virtual movement-objects to be variously actualized. 

An ‘object’ is usually thought of in terms of its static, inanimate and isolated persistence. The concept of a’movement-object’ reconfigures this definition at three different levels: first, ‘movement-objects’ do not block but constitute the virtuality of every dance; in other words, they compose the abstract matter that subsists and returns in the memory, perception and design of movement, while continuously varying in its concrete realizations. A virtual object is, in short, an idea that can associate sport and dance. A digitalized movement-object is a choreographic idea with a numeric virtuality all of its own. Second, rather than confirming the basic ontological (or topological) aporia between the continuity of movement as a material experience and its abstraction into rational figures of the mind, the concept of ‘virtual movement-objects’ builds a connecting bridge between the empirical dimension of movement and the abstractness of the mind: the digits, numbers and points at the basis of digital video editing, in fact, always result from the spatio-temporal ‘thickness’ of events, from which they are abstractly experienced (or experienced as abstractions) through a ‘rational’ operation, a computation or ‘calculus’ of movement differentials by the body-mind. Third, ‘virtual movement-objects’ are always ‘relational’. By ‘informationalizing’ dance into data objects, digital video editing reveals not only how fields, disciplines and cultures continuously interconnect, but also how the parameters of each movement (height, width, strength, velocity) are all connected to each other in such a way, that a change affecting one of them corresponds to a change throughout the whole system (or the whole ‘movement-object’): movement becomes thus an algorithmic system of shifting potentials. 

Finally, it should be noted how the linking of movement aesthetics with global brands or with the names of world-known athletes or artists, generates an exponential increase in the contagiousness of virtual movement-objects, and therefore in their disciplinary but also disruptive social potential.

Comments

Ashley Ferro-Murray's picture

Continuity of movement as a material experience

Good morning Stamatia and thank you for your thoughts!

I am enjoying thinking about a virtual movement object as it bridges between the "empirical dimension of movement and the abstractness of the mind." This bridge, which you suggest problematizes the "aporia between the continuity of movement as a material experience and its abstraction into rational figures of the mind" is also connected to the fact that the virtual movement object is always relational. 

Does digital technology such as the illustrated editing further reveal and exacerbate the lack of continuity in or empirical nature of movement that is already present in the athletes’ actions? Or, would you suggest that movements are continuous in our perception of them and that the technology allows for us to create and conceptualize a continuous movement in more empirical, informationalized or relational ways?

You explain "A digitalized movement-object is a choreographic idea with a numeric virtuality all of its own." Could we say that movement-objects themselves have similar qualities? 

What happens when our experience and/or perception of movement is in fact not continuous or material? Similarly, I am curious how our experience of digital technologies become more material in the case of technical mishap, or more continuous in the case of using video editing to lend a sense of perceived continuity between a series of movements that wouldn’t otherwise be physically attainable. 

stamatia portanova's picture

The abstractness of experience

 Hi Ashley, thanks for your great comments, questions, thoughts!

In fact, the concept of movement-object is important for me because it allows me to think of a dimension, which we often define as the ‘virtual’, or as abstraction, as a dimension that always ‘accompanies’, or resonates with experience (a perception, an articulated thought), but can never be defined as directly experienced in itself, only in its actualizations. The actualizations, in this sense, would be the actual, rather than virtual, objects of a performed/perceived movement. From this point of view, technology, and more specifically, digital technology, would be related to a further level that does not directly correspond to what is perceived of it (for example an edited movement), but to that abstractness that makes technology able to transform every motion into ‘data’. For me, it is exactly this mathematical nature that allows the exchange of movement-objects, or ideas, between fields, and that reveals how different parameters, or qualities, can be ‘abstractly related’ while being concretely different or even belonging to divergent movements. A movement-object, for example the inflection in the torsion of the foot, will never be perceived as ‘pure inflection’, but always as what becomes apparent in the form of the movement, a form which nevertheless owes its precision, or its definiteness, to that precise inflection. In the digital realm, an inflection is translated into an algorithm. What we perceive on the screen is not the algorithm as such, but its rendering, a perceivable image that is made possible exactly by that mathematical formulation, in its undetermined precision. We could therefore say that the same algorithm can travel between dance and sport, continuously changing while remaining the same.

Norah Zuniga Shaw's picture

objects

From a practical standpoint, your point that ‘movement objects are always relational’ is key to their appeal and generativity. The point then is not the object itself but the relationships produced in its creation and dissemination.

Alanna Thain's picture

the beat

Hi Stamatia,

I’ve been thinking about your idea of "movement-objects" and wondering if the idea of "the beat" is such an object.  It strikes me that the beat is precisely an exemplary object of the felt co-presence of virtual and actual, in that it is what can be explicitely located and yet is always immediately doubled by a generative propensity—to be on the beat is always to be already activating the dispersive futurity of the body in motion.  Beatseeking, as we all know, is deeply contagious!

stamatia portanova's picture

pirouettes

 Hi everyone,

thanks for all your great input! This is proving itself as a fruitful discussion indeed…

I also think, as Norah says, that movement-obects are fundamentally inseparable from their capacity to generate relations. At the same time, I think that there is an important component in their ‘objectiveness’, which does not simply equate them with their relationality, but also with a precise definiteness, a capacity to give form to a definable gesture or step, or to ‘cut’ reality in certain ways (something I tried to define as ‘rationality’, a tendency towards form, in my previous post). At the same time, every cut, every division, is also necessarily a relation… And that’s where this discussion links back to Ashley’s point, between continuity/discontinuity: perhaps we could think of movement-objects as neither atomic nor continuous, but as an infinite series of potential divisions. As an example, we can think how all pirouettes seem to depend on the generativity of some particular movement-objects, such as head spotting or the torque point of the foot. Spotting and torque would thus appear like the invariant ideas returning in all different rotations of the body, even in sport. If the torque point is important in esabilishing a relation between floor, foot and the body, it is also fundamental in determining the precise form, velocity, direction of the turn.

Thanks again!

stamatia portanova's picture

..and beats

I think the beat is a great eample of a movement-object. In fact, the beat as a sound-object derives from the combination of clouds of sonic grains with silent gaps between them, but is still perceived as a whole unit through the phenomenon of ‘tone fusion’, because of the limited capacity of our hearing sense in relation to the infinity of microscopic events composing a sound.

At the same time, stamping one’s foot or clapping one’s hands while listening to a cadenced sequence of beats is a form of relationality between perceptual/motor moments. Synchronisation is nevertheless different from the linearity of a simple stimulus/reaction circuit, because what elicits bodily reaction is not the actual acoustic stimulus but the interval between two successive sounds. With regular cadences of sound, synchronisation becomes thus possible because the body can anticipate the production of the successive stimulus, while more irregular series of sounds make synchronisation practically impossible. The tendency of the body to anticipate sound with its steps delineates the movement/sound synchronisation as a process of continuous oscillation between anticipation and following, a ‘pre-acceleration’, to echo Erin’s words, generated by the relational character of the sound-object.

 

Jussi Parikka's picture

Movement-objects track and establish connections across scales

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Thanks Stamatia, I really enjoyed reading this, and it got me thinking especially about the ecologies of movement, software and global brand capitalism, of how movement-objects are good in terms of methodology as well – good “tools” to follow connections across scales of bodies.

Why is global capitalism so interested in dance? Why is it so interested in flexible, able, creative bodies that show virtuosity and skill? It seems that the emblematic body of contemporary network(ed) capitalism of creative industries and digital economy is that of the dancer, the performer, what Virno referred to as virtuosity; not solely the individual performer however, but indeed a collective quite often. Its flash mobs on train stations, not the worker at the conveyer belt; indeed, train stations instead of factories. What is being produced is movement, or perhaps, from a moving, creative, related set of bodies something emerges; what is that what interests capitalism in that sense? Of course, football is the great art of relationality (think of Douglas Gordon’s Zidane-film!) but as much a condensation of creative capitalism; a condensation of not only flows of skill, but flows of capital and profit. In South-Africa, at the moment, with the World Cup approaching, new territories of security are being created where wrong bodies (street kids, and other not-wanted-disturbances) are being cleaned out from the streets in preparation for the celebration of global society under the banner of football.

 

In a forthcoming article we write with Milla Tiainen:

Indeed, the dancing and moving body can be seen in historical terms as a specific form of knowledge production with an increasing economic importance. Dance is the perfect interface for cultural theories of movement (bodies in variation) to understand the complexity of interaction, an ethology of forces/bodies and the object of cultural industries of affect and experiences. Nigel Thrift writes: ‘[…] dance can sensitize us to the bodily sensorium of a culture, to touch, force, tension, weight, shape, tempo, phrasing, intervalation, even coalescence, to the serial mimesis of not quite a copy through which we are reconstituted moment by moment’ (2008: 140).”

Not quite a copy” seems to be the contagious element of propagation.

You start with viruses, with bacteria, which is apt in terms of thinking the contagious nature of gesturality/movement (despite a post-fordist emphasis on flexible bodies, actually the mapping of the gestural, flexible body was part of the earlier phase of capitalism, the cinematic one already since he 19th century) and movement-objects as you call them. It seems to convey the idea of such objects themselves as condensations of intensities that can spread across levels, in this case from the thickness of the event/bodies performing in relation to e.g. algorithmic environments, digital techniques/milieus of creation. Indeed, its not only an abstraction of lived relations of organic kinds, but another scale of relations that is being superposed, or ties in with bodies, and that intertwining of scales and techniques interests me a lot. The digital object is far from static but incorporates too an intensity that stems from its relational status. We can also approach digital objects through the notion of affect whether on the level of design where e.g. object-orientated-design deals with such relations, or then more widely through the assemblage nature of digital nature. Digital objects, software and such, are, for me, characterised by their translational capacities. Not only that through algorithmic measures we are able to abstract etc. things into datasets, but that such abstractions return to organic bodies and their actions; they return as sounds and visions, as actions or frameworks for action (operating systems, bank cash dispensers, and such). This generative circuit that software participates in between a variety of bodies, this relationality, is how I would read also “movement-objects” circulating AND distributing certain relations and gesturality even.

I think this multiplicity of ecologies is one thing that strikes me about your movement-objects; they always creatively “mediate” between scales; whether digital objects-organics, or then the idea about beats, where the beat-object is formed through combination of grains, as you put it following Alanna, and where on another scale of bodies’ beats create combinations; bodies pulsating together at a disco! Or again, at the train station as with flash mobs harnessed as part of mobile operator adverts! Its contagious, indeed, and again ties in these contemporary themes together with crowds, social imitation as creativity of bodies in concert, all symptomatic of modernity already in the sense Gabriel Tarde talked about (and more recently Tony Sampson has been interested in!).

 

stamatia portanova's picture

Thanks for the great reply

Thanks for the great reply Jussi! Two things in particular strike me about your comment: the notion of virtuosity in relation to contemporary capitalism, and that of how movement-objects (or ideas) always ‘return’ as sounds, visions, actions.

As for the virtuosity of the dancing body, I think it is important to note how, in the system of ‘marketable’ movement, what emerges is the emerging of skill from relationality, rather than from mere individual capacity (virtuosity as a matter of intensity, rather than intention). The more you relate, and the more you creatively repeat the relation, the better you perform. In terms of the return to the actual, the reason I use a term such as ‘movement-objects’ is because this concept suggests me a double possibility: to avoid mere ‘relationality’ (the ‘reduction’ of objects, things etc., simply to their relations), and on the other hand to take the abstraction of ideas beyond essentialist intepretations, and show how they are always appearing in relation to their actualizations. Ideas, or movement-objects, in other words, are not only relations, but cannot be conceived beyond relations.

But lets talk about this ‘ecological’ logic again soon! 

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