Year 5, Piece Seven: 14. Orange Black White

GUEST PIECE by Will Rogers

This is the very first guest piece for Rainbow Squared. Since the project’s inception, I’ve fantasized about it what it might look like for other makers to “do” a Rainbow Squared. At first I wondered about others committing to complete a full body of 49 pieces. Now I wonder about the formula less as one of creative productivity as much as spiritual inquiry: how might this (or any) symbol set operate as a lens through which to notice and make magical and narrative connections in your daily life? 

For Year 5, every seventh piece will be a guest piece. Piece Seven is the first, so stay tuned for Pieces Fourteen, Twenty-one, Twenty-eight, Thirty-five, Forty-two, and Forty-nine. If you are curious about doing one of those yourself, by all means, let me know.

I am honored to share this first guest piece by my dear friend Will Rogers. As he mentions, he helped build the Rainbow Squared website, which is the framework that actually allows these pieces to live together in physical, digital space (yes, digital space is physical). It is funny to reflect on this in 2021, but one of my first extended interactions with Will was over video chat in 2012. I was artistically obsessed with a different rainbow symbol at the time, a rainbow arching over a mushroom cloud. I was interviewing people about their thoughts on the word “apocaloptimism.” One of his definitions left the biggest impression on me, one that I can look back on even more viscerally now: “There is a big difference between death pain and birth pain, and it’s a way of looking at whatever depression or collapse we might be approaching and thinking of it more as the labor pains of birth rather than the agony of death.” 9 years later, Will is still a compost modernist and poet, and now studying to be a nurse specializing in end of life care. So I trust him on that one.  

14. Orange Black White

By Will Rogers | @spozbo

Orange is my mother’s color, complementing her auburn hair and fair complexion with freckles. At some point in my childhood, orange clothing became more commonly available than it had been in the 80’s, and the orange-buying habit my mom had developed (“buy orange whenever I see it”) led to an orange explosion in her wardrobe. I couldn’t tell whether it was Freudian when, the first time I bought bedsheets and a duvet cover, I went with orange. Maybe it was just a womb thing, for comfort. For sleep. Oh sleep: such a fundamental paradox to check out of a world of reason and into a world of mystery, from light into dark, daily, to be reborn again, anew. Plato’s cave, often a womb metaphor (with orange firelight reflected onto its walls), guides us from the dark world that seems to make sense into the blinding white light of the outside. 


A few years ago, my friend Ilyse asked me to update much of this website (for pay, Ilyse believes in paying artists), and I said yes even though my web-design skills are quite basic. So I have been close to “A Rainbow Squared” for a while now, and throughout that time “Black White” has perplexed me more than any other aspect of this project’s formula. I thought, rainbows are nothing like black-white and why does this rainbow skip the mystical color of “Indigo”? So I shook my head when Ilyse drew this card for me for this week, smiling at the chance to meditate on my discomfort around “blackwhite’s” place on the rainbow (squared). It wasn’t long before I felt quite lucky to have been drawn this card, the 7th week of this sequence, the fourteenth square on the grid (7+7, combining to a nice 777), and so, resting on a bed of orange (which represents “creation” in this project’s symbol structure), I feel nudged to share that I’ve been writing an essay about the dichotomy of light and dark. 


To paraphrase it, the story started a decade ago, when I noticed how light and darkness are fundamental to all the cultural symbols I’ve been taught: positive and negative, 1’s and 0’s, existence and non-existence. With light and dark so near the center of my way of making meaning, I’ve been taught to emphasize the visual: when I ask do you “see” what I mean, “seeing” equates with “understanding.” To see is to know, but really? We are called to reinforce this “perspective” (ie, this “bias toward what can be seen”) with the moralizing of “move toward the light,” so that “light,” of course, equates with “good,” and “dark” equates with “evil” or “bad,” the things we fear.  


If you don’t already “see” why this vision-based symbol system could be problematic, I’ll spell it out (so you can read it… with your eyes), like this: in a culture where light=good and dark=bad, a culture that knows by seeing, it kind of makes sense why we have such widespread w-h-i-t-e s-u-p-r-e-m-a-c-y. Even though we understand that white is not better than dark, we’re surrounded by innumerable metaphors suggesting otherwise; the primacy of vision is baked into our language, ignoring what cannot be seen. We need to reach beyond the visible if we’re going to create together a culture where all people are treated with dignity. We can tease apart the bonds of light=good and dark=bad, letting go of a system that is not serving us.


There is so much truth that cannot be seen!
And whenever we need to “see it to believe it,” 
we lose the invisible, and we lose the dark. 


Knock knock, who’s there: Orange you glad to be noticing this?! Dark is not the same as Bad, and Light is not the same as Good! We can grow new connections branching out from this reality! We can understand through feeling, tasting, smelling, and sensing with senses we don’t yet have words for. There’s so much more that we can’t see than what we can see. 


And so, I’ve realized this week, the genius of blackwhite’s place in “A Rainbow Squared” is that it makes room for all that’s beyond the rainbow of the visible spectrum of light… And yet! There’s still much to be learned from tuning into specific colors and what they’re saying, via the combos on the grid: all we have to do is turn our heads and look: I shot the photos of this week’s animation within a few feet from where I’m sitting right now, at my desk. An orange box that used to belong to Uta Barth, a black-and-white drawing by Rachel Dwan, a collection of short stories called Octavia’s Brood, co-edited by adrienne maree brown, alongside a tiny photo of Edward Hopper’s home studio, his wife standing next to it. It started as a portrait but Hopper is cropped out so that his wife is no longer in the background of his foreground: her name is Josephine Hopper, a painter and a key player in her husband’s success as an artist (some might have called her support an “invisible force”). I feel lucky to be so near to these things, starting my day next to them.


Anything “in black and white” means text, so while I shot stills it was only necessary that I flip open my copy of Octavia’s Brood, (referring to the pioneering Black science fiction author Octavia Butler) and see what it offered. Chance/fate brought me to a story by Autumn Brown, sister of adrienne maree and co-host of their podcast, How to Survive the End of the World (highly recommended). In the story, a post-collapse society that lives underground (in the dark) is about to “surface” a woman who has committed a crime. Surfacing is their mode of capital punishment, since no one survives there, but [spoiler alert] the woman’s mother gives her an ancient bag of supplies (“It is the color I have always imagined the sunset would be”) so that when she is thrust into the light, she might live. 


Orange, Black, and White, imagining a new kind of future together, with Octavia Butler as our guide. Let’s all stretch out from the rainbow of light, into the great unseen.