Field Observations

By: Wendy Whaley

I chose a perhaps disputable gesture study for my field observations.  I say that it could be a disputable subject just based on the reading of Gesture and Affect: The Practice of a Phenomenology of Gesture. In this text, Vilém Flusser attempts to rather allusively, define gesture in such a way that I cannot even pull out one quote from the text that would get at the core of what he is saying. I am not even sure that I don’t just think this article is just a bit of mental Ashtanga that leaves the interpretation as open as it begins.  Therefore, I will interpret gesture based on a mix of experience and instinct.

I was going to say that gesture is any movement that is meant as a means of communication, but one can gesture without meaning to, and so, to me a gesture is any movement that elicits emotion.  I will use the internet as my field and explore gestures that elicit frisson.

The piece that I will discuss is the giffy.gif that was spread around Reddit and Facebook about a year ago.  The piece came with a headline that read “A Microtubule Carrying Happiness to Your Brain”, and in the small blurb underneath said that it was a microtubule carrying dopamine to receptors in the brain.  I have kept this gif on my desktop to access at a moment’s notice to help flood my brain with happiness whenever I need it. I have been trying to pinpoint the elements within this moving image that make me feel as though happiness is flooding my brain. Perhaps it was just the suggestion from the headline, and I do think that has played a part, but there are also visual clues. When the image is still and not moving, it has no affect.  I found what I believe to be the source of this image, a Harvard documentary The Inner Life of a Cell.  The definition of what is actually happening in the scene that contains this clip is that 'micro tubules provide tracks for membrane bound vesicles to travel, to and from, the plasma membrane', not the same as was suggested with the gif.  The footage in the documentary also has no effect on me, and so I have looked at the differences in the documentary footage to the perfectly looping gif that I found on the internet.  The footage in the documentary is lit very neutrally, just a minimal diffuse ambient overall, whereas the footage in the gif has a bright light source creating shadows that accentuate the movement.  The gif contains more particle detail in the surface of the ball that the microtubule is carrying, the waves of interacting particle dynamics cause me frisson. The other notable gesture that causes frisson is the motion of the microtubule. The anthropomorphic shape that it has mimics that of a person carrying the ball with fuzzy slippers on its feet.  The feet appear to have this wonderful clicking into place each time they take a step. The looping animation of the entire clip is seamless, I could watch it until my eyes get tired. 

Flusser's piece actually provides a clue to the effectiveness of this piece. He speaks of 'movements of the body',  and alludes to gestures being a human phenomenon. I propose that the anthropomorphic qualities of the vesicle contribute to the reading of this gif as a gesture. 



Flusser, Vilém. “Gesture and Affect: The Practice of a Phenomenology of Gesture.” Gestures.

Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014. 1-9. Print.