TITLE: "My Favorite Move"
SUMMARY: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) is now recognized worldwide as one of the most effective martial arts. The documented history of BJJ is particularly rich, due in large part to its association with Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) promotions, such as the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). Success by its practitioners in a variety of competitive arenas, local to global, has solidified BJJ's reputation for utility and excellence and expanded the familiarity of BJJ among martial arts fans, appropriation by trainers for professional military, self-defense and police applications, and interest in the media. "My Favorite Move" (MFM) is a multi-layered arts project that approaches BJJ from a specialized, New Social Media Artist angle, applies new production technologies to the base concept, is interactive and generative, is rooted in a Shared-Interest Model (S-IM) and yields art objects for presentation in a fine art context.
My first art project incorporating representations of BJJ was the DDDD Project "INSIDE>OUTSIDE" (Parthenon Museum, Nashville, TN 2000). Filmmaker/artist Brent Stewart, who was a core member of the DDDD collective at that time, also produced video elements captured from BJJ practice. Our source material was provided through collaboration with Combat Submission Club, where I trained/instructed MMA at that time. I associated the intricate movements of grappling and other fighting techniques and disciplines with 4D Wovenform. I produced a series of digital prints mounted in light boxes and manipulated videos for the I>O exhibition, featuring combat arts and artists. The aesthetic questions in play are:
- What is art?
- Who is an artist?
- What is art for?
My interest in the comparative juxtaposition of combat arts and fine arts arises from curiosity about what these disciplines (MMA and Fine Art) share, in addition to the term "art." Obviously a practice of jiu jitsu, for example, is not the same as creating a painting! However, beyond a superficial rejection of these disciplines' being meaningfully associative, I found many intersections between them, especially at the structural (if not objective) level, and also within a broader cultural, social, psychological - and craft - basis. The key for me was to dismiss the exclusionary, contemporary impulse to reduce and segregate the actions in question - fight (destructive) versus create art - in a false, or at least arbitrary, binary. The positioning of these disciplines in conjunction initially required the minimization of immediate, or specific cultural, bias. Research assisted in this regard. Not all cultures associate martial practice with "bad" and art with "good." At the tribal level, and in certain more "civilized" societies, there are many examples of martial practice and "art" occupying the same productive social spectrum, along with many other activities. Japanese society for instance is an example of society that has at depth integrated martial arts within its identity, and this integration is in many ways expressed through Japanese "creative" arts. My study of the general relationship between "war" and "art" is ongoing. Instructors like Friedrich Kittler have expanded the parameters of my investigation to include technology and communication. Essentially and systematically, it seems that art and the destructive machine share deep roots not only in the West. I have found this inquiry to be a profound resource for content throughout my artistic progression.
- View the entire I>O Lightbox gallery including the finished grappler images (modified Flash module, re-sized/format-converted digital images from original print files, first posted at Art for Humans website in 2001, re-posted/-published elsewhere), here: http://www.artforhumans.com/archive/09lightboxgallery/lightboxgallery.html
- Installation views of the I>O exhibit https://www.flickr.com/photos/artforhumans/albums/72157613410478434/
Recently, my 5 year-old son began training in BJJ at Fabio Clemente (Alliance) Jiu Jitsu in Manhattan, and I began training at Renzo Gracie Fight Academy in Brooklyn. After reviewing the guidelines for Impact 25, I thought of this project (MFM) for my NMNF coursework. I envision MFM as a fun way to integrate a variety of media and technologies into a production program that is viable as a community arts exercise with educational features and as a content-generator for presentation in a fine arts context. The project contains a number of social and distributed media opportunities that support the output objectives. Given the burgeoning popularity of BJJ and MMA, and very little prior crossover with the mediatic "artworld" (although there are plenty of referential and precursor materials - such as Bellows' boxing paintings), the creative enterprise feels timely enough. Not a minor detail: I find the focus of the project inspiring and compelling.
PHASE 1 (PROPOSAL):
- Permissions: To begin, I will need to approach the two BJJ schools with the MFM project concept, present a project outline that describes the types of access, production logistics, content usages and outcomes pertinent to schools, participants in their decision to either "buy in" to the idea (or not).
- If I receive permission to proceed, I will produce a document that summarizes MFM and documents the permission of the schools, as well as a form for each participant to sign, which reiterates the summary as it applies to them. Then production can commence.
PHASE 2 (PRODUCTION):
- I will create short videos of 25 BJJ practitioners identifying themselves, giving a brief introduction to their BJJ background (practical level, reflections on BJJ, etc.), describing their favorite BJJ "move" (technique) and demonstrating that move with a partner. These 25 short videos will be edited into a single video, perhaps with contextual material and aesthetic enhancements added. Images sequences will be selected from this portfolio, and a graphic element will be superimposed on the raw video, tracking the decisive elements that make up the "move." These elements can be translated to a set of directional and "force" vectors and extracted from the video to create a "drawing" of the move. This drawing can be expressed through a variety of mediums, including digital still images (for print and/or web) and animations, laser cut in various materials, and combined to create a wovenform that can be 3D printed. The audio material produced during video gathering can be manipulated and composed as a derivative soundtrack for presentation in the exhibit context, as video "soundtrack" and in web-based applications. Additionally, the artist will produce a series of "analog" drawings and paintings for MFM.
- Schools and participants will have access to all materials produced by the artist. These materials will be shared within the collaboration on a Creative Commons basis. Where possible, the artist will offer schools and participants project output - including the exhibit objects - either free or at cost, depending on the content's virtual/actual features.
PHASE 3 (PRESENTATION):
- The primary artistic objective of MFM will be to produce a professional-quality art exhibit at an appropriate venue (which of course could be at TC). Additionally, the artist will produce a professional-quality website for the project. Documentation of the project will be located in an archive on that site. A print catalog (book) plus media will be produced for distribution during the exhibit.
- The core/source materials will be published in a variety of online/social media formats.
- Consideration for the IMPACT25 concept originator and other iterations of the project will be linked. The nature of the linkage/attribution will be determined via collaborative discussions with Professor Richard Jochum (and other IMPACT25 creatives, as warranted).
PHASE 4 (DISTRIBUTION OF PROCEEDS):
- A fair economy will be established for the distribution of any and all proceeds deriving from the project and its outputs. The nature of that economy will be determined via discussions with Professor Richard Jochum, the schools, the participants, and logistical support team (if there is one).
- The goal of this phase is to promote an equitable model for artist practices involving communities whose activities, ideas, people, etc. provision the content of the "art." In such a model, the "art" and "artist" perform reciprocally with the community, and that performance is constructed to be materially, mutually beneficial.
Some of the elements of this production (e.g., vectoring athletic movement as a kind of graphic data visualization in multiple media formats) are done with great expertise, by professionals with relatively massive resources at their disposal. To illustrate this statement: watch a World Cup soccer match, NBA or NFL playoff game. The technology for the process I am outlining above has applications outside "art." "That space" "outside 'art'" is dominated by fields such as entertainment media, governed by certain eventualities, which may intersect with spectacular practice. I am interested in the juxtaposition of the realms of "art" and these popular modes of diversion, if that is what they are, and the philosophical, political, industrial and economic or industrial they embody and represent. The aesthetics of MFM involve central artistic premises, which correlate to premises underpinning martial arts (specifically, the current "state" of BJJ/MMA), including:
- The Portrait
- The School
- The Student/Teacher (Master) hierarchy
- Local/global currency
- Costs and Rewards
- Signs and Signals, Costumes and Codes
- Measures of Success (Competition)
I envision MFM as a means by which to draw out the ways fine arts and martial arts intertwine as phenomena for us. Having already worked with this subject for artistic purposes, I feel confident that the source material is conducive to the production of potent images/art, sounds, environments, etc. Furthermore MFM is a fine vehicle for tracking a truly international phenomenon: the evolution of BJJ starts in Japan, moves to Brazil, then the USA and to the world. Its prime nodes (schools, clubs, gyms, etc.) are scattered across the globe. To an extent this is an immigrant story, a narrative that encompasses a study of craft and cultural transmission, but also the manner in which social hybrids form and those forms mutate and reform over time. The story of BJJ is a family story, rhizomatic in its structure. The dispersal of the family knowledge is conducted through a lineage that contains drama, dramatic personae and moments, arcs and descents. The public nature of martial arts competition, the private nature of its practice and the "secrets" that pass among the initiated foster a rich epistemological/technical mix. The phenomenon would not I believe be possible without the means the current media complex enable, in terms of access and reach. The people who practice BJJ comprise and incredibly diverse and dispersed population. Events are sites of gathering and media projection to ever-larger and better-informed audiences. BJJ/MMA practitioners, especially "stars," are developing crossover careers in movies and other modes of entertainment media. MFM has the potential as a dimensional arts project to represent all the threads mapped above and more.