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WHITE ON WHITE: a film noir — RIGA, LATVIA Jeff Wood
rufus corporation


Joseph Campbell speculated that a society’s ethos might be ascertained from the purpose of it’s highest structure. His example, I recall, was the Salt Lake City ‘skyline’ which featured the Mormon Church, City Hall, and then a bank, in ascending order, and in time. At the end of this journey I would find myself at the base of the tallest planned structure on earth. Currently, the world around, the tallest structures are TV and/or radio towers. If the ubiquitous TV (or information) tower suggests an integrated global ethos, independent of localized values, the Burj Dubai tower will, present finally a total living environment, including the obligatory communications tower. A fully habitable desert careening toward the heavens. It has long been my suspicion that we are practicing for outer space, as it were. A space ship is in one breath a refuge and a death trap. Interestingly, not far at all down the list of the world’s tallest structures is the Petronius off-shore oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico. And while it is partially supported by water, disqualifying it from some contests, it still ranks as one of the significant structures on the planet, albeit, perhaps, rising downward toward some collective id.

Driving in from the airport and crossing the Daugava River, the Riga TV Tower is striking, as it is in all cities. The third tallest in Europe, with a tripod base, the Riga tower occupies a shallow island in the river and resembles an Eiffel Tower imagined by Giacometti, broad and formidable in its base, while splindling off into an impossibly ethereal anime finger, like Lucifer reaching for Michelangelo. But in the center of town there is something fine. Amid the lovely, rainy pedestrian streets, the Jugenstil architecture and the mysteriously cropped trees is the Freedom Monument honoring soldiers killed during the War for Latvian Independence. A smooth white obelisk rising from a red granite base. Dramatic relief in white granite around the base dramatizing Latvian historical, cultural, labor and military instances. Then the almost luminescent white pillar elevating ideals above the round. A patina copper lady, a statue of liberty triumphantly grasping a gilded halo of stars above her head in both hands extended as high as her arms will reach. She is looking down at the square, at the street, at anyone, not at some metaphysical horizon. Her posture is almost yogic; slender yet unassailable. She is gorgeous and moving; not to possess, but to behold. She puts a fear in you, moves around inside you at will and then returns to her eternal position like a tesseract. The monument is both grave and sexy. It is riveting. I don’t believe that we believe in the human form anymore, in humanity, enough to commission objects of this precise scale and power. Our aspirations are elsewhere, and our suspicions, in the gargantuan and in the minutia, in the phantasmagoric and in the maddeningly ephemeral; she is a reality TV show now that nobody watches and a phantom of shimmering skin just outside the frame in the click of the shutter. A thousand clicks cascading down the runway. The runway is everywhere. And she is gone. We never saw her.

Along the river, alternately, the obligatory Soviet socialist realism monument puts an absolute terror in me. A real fear, just perhaps exactly as it was intended. Cutting razor noses as though of a ship’s prow or the blade of a shovel. Jaw lines and cheekbones and helmets and ferocious scowls of man’s Nietzschean savagery against all things within and without. A bottomless heroic suffering against the elements and the cowardice of indiscipline. Nothing but cold wind blows against those hardened faces. Frigid, frigid airs. Mother do not shield me from these rains and snows, this ice and hailstorm, this maelstrom, this blistering heat and sun for what I have forged of this earth I have clawed and pressed and smelted with my own two hands and made in my own image the image of history that has been laid out before me on which I will storm the past that has been deserved to me for my earned and righteous sufferings; for I have suffered; and for these charts of stone and glass and wire that you tread have been laid by my suffering as in war and war without end. And my face is against all that is pressed against it. I am a battering ram. I am all that has been achieved for I have achieved what man has been set out to do which is among these folds lay smooth a plate of iron to polish and shine and clean into a mirror’s sheen for this reality is nothing but mine and ours and us, and no one had died for your sins because there are no sins, sin is but chaos and chaos is what I see, before me, encroaching relentlessly, on all sides, pulling at my jowls, dissolving me in the wake of falling stars. I am God’s tool for I have imagined my labors in the womb of a black hole. For who would keep my brother but me, for I am my brother, and who would keep us but all forces gathered and intensified and focused upon this void that I have had but one will to enter and arrange and conduct as an opera of torches upon snow. I am howling. I am an arrow. I am screaming backwards. Now. My god what men suffering. What cold, cold, cold, cold, cold.

I have endured labors and trials but I am not a man of this fabric. What men and women even of this century I cannot fathom. I am a lazy coward and an altogether lesser animal. How do things happen now? How did it happen at all? What species have we crossed over. Already the world is foreign as Egypt and Mars. What force builds?

Upriver something humane. A shelter for people. A kitchen. Rooms. Beds. A table. Tea with milk. Coffee still, not Nescafe yet. A bright yellow-washed building among the brick factory-studios and warehouses. The old Admirals Offices Of The Port has been renovated as an artist residency/travelers hostel. With the fog laid low and chilled. A tunnel beneath the river where rat-people once escaped the collateral costs of evolution. The rooms are wallpapered with mid-century educational charts, graphs, and picto-grams the kind that go for top-dollar in American vintage shops, reminiscing how we learned things, a crude and cute mythology of when things were briefly comprehensible, or rendered. The fire brigade. Soviet buccaneers with buckets and ladders. Friendly anatomy. The layers peeled back. Newtonian chain-reactions. Billiard balls, ramps and mills. Donkeys. Levers. My room is covered in atomic bombs. All kinds of atomic, nuclear, thermo-nuclear, hydrogen bombs. What they do. How they do it. What they do to you. And what to do. Emergency rehearsal. Assess. The physics at ground zero. 300 suns. Time-wave axioms. Particle deceleration wavelengths. Cancerous ambulations. A shadow is moving across the mountain. A shadow the size of a mountain. The mountain is moving. You feel the blast. Sudden. The ground-shake. The heat coming on. The white light. On. Pretty. Many species. Above ground. Underground. Over water. The ocean. The Pacific island kind. The American kind. Atmospheric. In the sky. Angels. Singing. Listen. Run. Get down. Roll. Cover. Burn. Get underground. Go into the rat tunnel. Put on the mask. Wear the mask. The kind you wear goggles for. Science goggles. This kind makes the skin fall off horses. This kind makes the crops go away. How do you rearrange the sky? I sleep in bunk beds, surrounded by atomic blasts. The room turns like a mobile of softly tilting Armageddons. The floating clouds are full of blood, hanging like bloated ticks. The lawn is on fire. I dream of a tiny mushroom cloud I can hold in my hand.

When I awaken there’s camera gear all over the floor. Super-16mm. HDV. Tapes and film cartridges. Wires and cables and stacks of film that we’re gonna haul with us for thirty days. Lenses and microphones. And different colors of tape for different reasons. Gear exploded everywhere. I assemble my little tools. Leatherman™. Opinel. Multi-purpose western-style bandanas, 1 red, 1 blue (coffee filter, tourniquet, tear-gas mask, etc). Portuguese silk handkerchiefs. Lens cloth. Eye-glasses. Aviator glasses. Mountaineering glasses. Contact lenses for identity change. Zip-lock bags, use unknown but possibly for coffee. Plastic bottles with capsules: Fish oil. Ascorbic acid. Ascorbyl palmitate. Citrate. Glycinate. D3. D-alpha tocopherol succinate. Thiamine HCL. Riboflavin. Riboflavin 5 phosphate. Niacinamide. Inositol Hexaniacinate. Pyridoxine HCL. Folic acid. Methylcobalamin. Biotin. Pantothenic acid. Potassium iodide. Magnesium citrate. Picolinate. Selenomethionine. Glycinate. Manganese. Polynicotinate. Molybdenum. Potassium. Boron. Vanadium. Mixed Carotenoids. Andrographis. Echinaccea. Holy Basil. Garlic. TOA-free extract of the South American vine Una de Gato. Binoculars. Digital photo chips. Traditional 5-layer system for sub-zero temperatures. Carhartt desert shell-unit. Flip-flops. Useless, illegible photocopies of passport. Some US dollars. Moleskine™ notebook. Ink ball pen (favorite kind, secret, always stolen). Mini Maglight™. Duct-tape. Emergency down sleeping bag. Doxycycline. Rabbit-fur hat. Aspirin.

There is a guy upstairs, an actual guy, from Paris, France who has come here on ‘work vacation’ which means that he has brought with him five female intern-age interns and has occupied a room with hisself and they all networked together upon laptop computers, in their underwear, smoking joints, drinking wine and ‘developing’ some kind of human-performance system/suit that the wearer of which suit/backpack/thingy can transmit pictures/sounds/text/coordinates to someone else in another suitpack somewhere else, within a certain number of meters. The hyperreal purpose, use, and/or novelty of this is completely lost on me in particular in light of the proximity of the very real joint-smoking team hard at work on their laptops, in their underwear. This is happening upstairs. My American associate in the next room is compromised and spoon-feeding kefir and soda water. The Bavarian is out looking for Russians in stilettos. And we are beginning to enter further into it. When it hits your bloodstream and there’s nothing you can do about it. There is a traditional Latvian smorgasbord buffet in Riga that will absolutely knock your socks off. And a buffet is like an oasis and survival tool to be noted because there is no menu to read.

by Jeff Wood