Imperfecting a perfect(us): Love, Space, and Beauty by Megan Lavelle
Imperfecting a perfect(us).
Utopia is defined as a place of ideal perfection relating to law, government, and social conditions.
A framework of perfection is often a framework for order, law, precision, and limit.
The sciences designate “perfection” as a model — a conceptual construct for bodies that in reality do not precisely correspond to the model.
For a vicarious audience continuously seeking pride and honor in the precision of the athlete, perfection is at last palpable, albeit fleeting.
For nine innings, Matt Cain was perfect.
Nadia Comaneci captured the hearts of the world and became the first gymnast in history to know what it’s like to be perfect.
Jong-il bowled a perfect game-300, on his first time out bowling!
Just as the notoriously studious and athletic Greeks saw fit to legally bind public harmonies with a perfect tune, so too do the featured competitive performers seek to meet a binded, and perhaps blinded, sense of perfection through synchronized, collective movement.
Objectivism seeks perfection through the pursuit of knowledge, reason, and self; evident in the detailed and indexed Ayn Rand Lexicon.
Yet these two utopic ideals (sport and objectivism) layered together reveal the paradox of perfection as imperfection; that no two logical truths can lead one down a single path.
That a formula for perfection only reveals the limit of its origin.
RECAPS Q+ARECAPS: How do you think nationalism is being (re)branded to be palatable for millennials?
ML: Nato Thompson of Creative Time just wrote an article for e-flux titled “The Insurgents, Part I: Community-Based Practice as Military Methodology” in which he examines the parallels between the social practices of art and the military of the 21st century stating that “in both cases, those who get involved do so for the same reason: getting to know people is a critical path towards changing the landscape of life, and thus, power.”
General Petraus, with his extensive understanding of the internal failings of the Vietnam war, single handedly shifted the landscape of war in the 21st century with his Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24 and its emphasis on the contagious power of sociality over brute force. “The central mechanism through which ideologies are expressed and absorbed is the narrative. A narrative is an organizational scheme expressed in story form. Narratives are central to representing identity, particularly the collective identity of religious sects, ethnic groupings, and tribal elements.” This statement, found in the section “Ideology and Narrative” of the Field Manual, reveals a perspective of foreign policy as brand strategy.
So just like a product, ideas and ideology are branded. This is plain and simple propaganda, but instead of the red, black, and white Swiss grid posters of Stalinist Russia or the benevolent tug of the New Deal messaging or even Atlas Shrugged, we now have the Obama campaign. I am by no means an expert in understanding all of the caveats of a Millennial versus whatever generational brand name I fall under, but I do notice a shift toward neo-sincerity, rendered evident in the sunrise over the horizon abstraction of the Obama logo.
Technology and, more importantly, access, play a huge part in this ability to shift perspective within this current generation as information (right or wrong) becomes more and more available to the masses. For example, Julian Assange filmed his own television show while under house arrest in London and distributed it across the web through Hulu. I can go on the internet and read Wikileaks or US Weekly or General Petraus’ Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24 or, as I have done, a distilled version of it through an art publication such as e-flux. This is by no means a new concept, like all preceding generations, the leveling of technology to the masses supports a structure for access. Just like education.
I live in Oakland and I work in San Francisco and what is explicitly obvious is a combination of neo-sincerity mixed with irony mixed with million dollar paychecks. The other day I saw two girls arrive at the park wearing identical American flag t-shirts; this was no doubt more fashion than ideology or nationalism, but it still triggered an idea about how we communicate and divide ourselves. The flag becomes a representation of not only borders, but also ideology distilled to a symbol. What happens when ideology is an aesthetic? I have no answer for this, but to bring it back to the Obama campaign, the slick logo, effective branding, and communication platform of 2008 totally changed the face of future campaigns yet it didn’t change the politic. We are still at war, we still have prisoners in Guantanamo, we still have a shitty prison system, and there are still kids not getting the education they need and deserve.RECAPS: You talk about the (re)branding of capitalism and communism over the course of the last 30 years in relation to this work. How have these ideas morphed as they are translated across generational lines and what do you think the stakes of these changing narratives are?
My main interest in making this work is the control and the binary found in both sport and Objectivist ideology. Both ask one to live by the black and white code of a system without a gray zone; where right and a wrong are clearly defined and actually exist. My reference to a rebranding of capitalism and communism is more directly addressing how we are fed ideology in binaries. For so long the Soviet Union was at the opposite end of a good guy / bad guy binary created for the United States by the United States. The wall comes down and so does the binary, yet because of our trade with China and how comfortably they sit in the gray area between capitalist and communist we don’t demonize them quite as explicitly as we demonized the Soviet Union.
I believe that what something like Wikileaks provides is, again access, but also perspective into our own internal grey zone. We aren’t the good guys and it becomes more and more evident that an agenda of capitalism conducts opaque violence behind an excuse of economic exchange. The target pivots based on mineral reserves, trade agreements, and foreign policy.
In this way I think it’s interesting that the structure of the Olympics is it’s own standardized form of foreign policy. Every two to four years North Korea and the United states will perform and be judged side by side under the same set of parameters. When else does this happen!?RECAPS: Are there aspects of how the body, the individual, and the collective, are constructed in relation to these spectacles that you find it hard to have critical distance from?
ML: My critical distance is built into the work especially in regard to the metaphor of body as agency. While my main objective is to consider the somatic as an entry point for discussion on larger systems, I have to recognize that I have chosen a series of synchronized sports featuring women moving their bodies on a stage for an audience.
The movement of the rhythmic gymnasts is paired with Rand’s text on space due to their collective movement as an orbit in constant, relative movement. But it also reveals the hyper-sexualized binary of sport and the limited options for “thirdness”.RECAPS: Does this work change in light of how the queer body has (re)entered the conversation about the Olympics in response to what is happening in Russia?
ML: The Olympics is not only a place of pride for nations, but it is also a huge money maker. This current debate offers an interesting front page cross section of human rights and economy so often left out of the same discussion.
In this way, I think the current events in Russia, especially as it relates to LGBT rights, opens another entry point for the work and questions our implicit binary construction of not only gender, but right and wrong / us and them.