W H I T E (2019)
White is the first in a series of multimedia projects based on the prose poetry of Rimona Afana. An interdisciplinary scholar whose research areas include Transitional Justice, Peace Studies, and Ecological Ethics, Rimona writes abstract yet trenchant poetic texts. Her writing techniques bear a connection to those of the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry movement. She treats words as mobile objects (or perhaps creatures living on the page) and plays with the intersection between content and layout to imply utterance, phrasing, and weight. Written virtuosically in today’s lingua franca (rather than Romanian, her mother-tongue), her work surfaces (neo) colonial legacies, immigrant experience, shared fragility.
To me, White (2017) is one of her most challenging texts. The language is intense yet elusive—a sequence of fragmented experiences and fraught human encounter. Its coherence is a residue of the contemporary incoherencies it documents. I read each line as a mute explosion, an after-flash that briefly illuminates an obscure world. The image-implosions expose the paradoxes, contradictions, mis-citations, and inversions endemic to humanity. “Hic locus est ubi mors gaudet succerrere vitae”—This is the place where death rejoices to help life.
The first explosion is white phosphorous. A self-igniting incendiary chemical banned from military use in civilian areas, it has nonetheless continued to be deployed in conflicts around the world, including in the offensive on the Gaza Strip in 2008–2009. White phosphorous burns a blinding, searing bright white at room temperature. It cuts through flesh and cannot easily be put out. Its effect upon human bodies is inhumane.
White addresses our unstable modern materialism: the in/human urge to destruction, our de/natured humanity (DNA gone astray). Brokenness emerges as blindness towards the suffering of others, a “blurred vision” which dissipates with “the next commercial” or perhaps accentuates “in 9D in your local cinema.” The tone is neutral and detached, contrasting its charged content. Her piece draws upon experiences during her stays in Israel/Palestine, also hinting at racism towards immigrants during the Brexit debates while she was living in Northern Ireland, and at how other intersecting, insidious forms of violence become abstracted. As in José Saramago’s work, blindness turns into an epidemic, a sea of “white” flooding us inside-out.
While creating the audio I decoded the text in light of our travels during the summer of 2018 in Israel, occupied Palestine, Turkey, and Romania. For me the text echoes voices of those I encountered: Bedouins, Holocaust survivors, Palestinian activists, Romanian farmers, Turkish and Romani musicians—spaces and peoples who are, as she likes to put it, a continuum. I asked to record Rimona reading her prose poem, loving her voice, but knowing that she feels performing does not come easily to her. Natural synthesis and synthetic nature. This dialectic occupied my audio work. Her voice becomes fragmented and multiplied, processed and distorted, merging with the digital technologies to which it is subjected.
The apocalyptic imagery momentarily subsides in the “refuge” of a “luxuriant beard.” The audio cuts to a different terrain: field recordings and ex-temporized improvisations on white/ness in Romanian. White—the unmarked privilege, the negative space taken for granted—purity and terror, a techno- synthetic formula that can solve (burn away) all of our differences. Whiteness as a roar of white noise. Symmetrical and open-ended, both text and audio are framed by . . . “white.”
White (2017) by Rimona Afana