Discover more from Rainbow Squared
Series Six: 02. Red Orange
Creation and Destruction
My phone buzzed with a message: a picture of my friend’s computer. At first it just looked like some article she was reading. Then I zoomed in to a line at the bottom of her screen: “Original art by Ilyse Magy.” Ha! What was my friend doing in the deep archives of the The Rumpus?
Fourteen years ago, fresh to San Francisco and fresh out of Art School, another friend of mine was starting a column in a new online literary magazine and asked me if I wanted to illustrate for it. I tried to tell her that I had majored in Sculpture, but that nuance didn’t seem to register. Artists make pictures, right? And so I made pictures for her Funny Women column for a while, putting the “free” in “freelance” along with myriad other odd jobs. How funny that it’s all still there on the internet!
Then the phone rang. This time it was my mom.
“We need to talk about something,” she said.
“Okay, what’s going on?” I asked, genuinely unsure of what possible range of topics this could be about.
“We need to talk about your nap blanket.”
For most people “nap blanket” would refer to a certain kind of childhood keepsake. In this case, she was referring to a giant blanket I had constructed to host a Collective Nap under the St. Louis Arch, inviting participants to redream the American Dream under the symbol of Manifest Destiny.
“I have a moth infestation. They’ve already eaten clear through some rugs, and they are eating your blanket too. It might finally be time to get rid of it,” she said. I had stitched the blanket together from about other blankets that I got on the cheap from Missouri State Surplus, including a couple 100% wool army-issued blankets: moth food. Fully unrolled, the blanket is seven feet tall and about sixty feet across. I made it in 2008, long enough ago for my parents to divorce in the meantime. It sat first in my parents’ basement and then what became my dad’s basement and then moved to my mom’s basement.
The question of what to do with this blanket is one that comes up every few years. I always demure. I mean, they have the space, so it’s not really in the way. Besides, my other siblings have plenty of other crap they haven’t even sorted sitting in that basement. Why throw this away? Maybe I’ll need it one day for something, like maybe a Retrospective. Will I ever have one of those?
My mom told me that she managed to get the blanket onto her freezing cold Michigan porch where it’s possible the moths will die on their own. I told her that it is just stuff, and not to injure herself trying to save it, though thank you for caring and thank you for telling me. We talked about moth damage for a while more and hung up.
I sat back at my desk thinking about my old art. How wild that I would get pinged at the same time about two very different past projects. How wild that my friend would resurface my old illustrations right when I was starting another illustration project all these years later. I thought I wasn’t good at drawing then, what about now? I wondered if the illustrations were as bad as I remembered them being. I decided to look them up.
Searching “ilyse magy” on therumpus.net, I saw plenty of articles with my name on them. But when I clicked, not a single one had an image with it, just my byline. The images must have gotten detached one or two server migrations ago. As far as I can tell, the illustrations are all gone.
Okay. From physical to digital, why is my old art being destroyed?
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Red Orange is the second piece in the full Rainbow Squared series. It is also the second card in the cycle of Red, seven pieces that are all about the body, survival, and physical resources. Orange introduces fire, creation, and creativity. Red Orange is a tangled loop of creation and destruction.
A moth is also a symbol of both creation and destruction. Some moths create silk, but the more notorious moths destroy crops and clothes. In both cases, the caterpillar of the moth is responsible: silkworms make silk and larvae are the ones doing the eating. In fact, many moths don’t even have mouths or digestive systems. Instead they live off of what they ingested as caterpillars, staying in their moth form only long enough to procreate. Silkworms aren’t even allowed to make it to that stage: to create silk the cocoon has to be pierced or boiled, killing the moth before it even becomes a moth.
There are at least 160,000 species of moths. The common clothes moth or Tineola bisselliella would seem to have no redeeming qualities. The gorgeous Hyalophora cecropia (pictured here) creates silk and is the largest moth in North America, with a beauty that rivals any butterfly. Most moths are nocturnal and are thought to navigate by moonlight, moving forward by maintaining a constant angle to an infinitely far away light source. That’s one theory as to why moths are attracted to light. The problem with artificial light is that once the moth reaches the source, it doesn’t know where to go from there.
In Hebrew, the word for “moth” is עָשׁ or “ash,” pronounced with an “ah” sound like “aah-sh.” The two letters in ash are Ayin (ע) and Shin (ש). Ayin is the name of the letter, but is also how you pronounce the Hebrew word עַיִן which means “eye.” Often moths have eye-shapes in their patterns, like the ayin-shapes that adorn the wings in this image. The letter Shin symbolizes fire and transformation. Moths are drawn to light, to the moon, to the reflection of the light from the sun (שֶׁמֶשׁ in Hebrew, which starts with ש). The moth is drawn into the fire, trying to complete itself (עָשׁ = ש + ע). If the moth ever reached the flame, it would perish.
What are you destroying in the process of creating, even in order to keep yourself alive? What are you creating in the process of destruction? What beauty might be there that’s easy to miss? What are you using to navigate, and is it a reliable source? What would happen if you ever reached it?