the Rainbow Way:
On Being an American, Gay, Multidisciplinary Artist, Formed in the Post-Modern Moment, Working in the American Post-Post-Post-Modern Moment on a Multidisciplinary Piece by an American, Gay, Multidisciplinary Artist Formed in the Post-Post-Modern Moment, Celebrating and Honoring the Life and Work of an American, Gay, Multidisciplinary Artist, Formed in the Modern Moment.
Remy Charlip! What a joy, and a what world of sweet considerations and gentle lessons he is proving to offer me, as I work into our 4th month as a performer in Rainbow Logic, the now, I believe, official title of Seth Eisen’s The Charlip Project.
One gift Remy gives us is his poetry, with which we are tickled to engage, and also challenged to be choiceful around (there are too many poems to use each in the show; there are too many everythings in someone’s entire life to use them all in a show of a mere hour or two). One poem that has particularly resonated with me is this one, that he wrote in 1973, when he was 44:
It’s not the struggle
it’s not the vision
it’s the passage in between.
Creation happens as release
from the mis-match
of an artist and the world.
Buried under a morass of pain
or relieving the pain
by reliving the pain
and screaming the struggle
is not the answer.
Envisioning a change
or carried off by a divine dream
is not the answer.
It’s the passage in between.
As I reread this poem now, I suddenly think about 1973, when the Modern moment in this country was segueing into the Post-Modern moment, as another layer of Remy’s deeply felt inquiry here. American society’s art culture both (1) struggles at any one time with the tensions between economic survival and non-commercial concerns, as well as between righteous rebellion against the oppressive norms of society and idealized “resolutions” to those norms; and also (2) messily arrives at the next stage of its own evolution by a combination of Both-And/Neither-Nor integration and unexpected new niche creation out of the historical tensions working over the decades in which any moment, and artist in that moment, is also struggling. The Passage In Between as a way to see the last 50 years of performance art evolution in this country, as opposed to some more facile “development” or simple pendulum swings?
The stanza “Creation happens as release from the mis-match of an artist and the world” lands like a punch almost, in my gut. At 57, I could say I’ve gone down a number of paths of how to interpret and analyze my history of both trying to make (individual art works as well as the “career”) and exploring being. In reading this line, and knowing more about the tensions and anguishes Remy the man also experienced (whereas his work speaks to, embodies, the full breath of resolution and transcendence of tension, of trumping it through simplicity and wit) “release” becomes an aberrant invention, a reconciliation out back, a paradox right here, a sly irony. The world and the artist are not themselves, I think, releasing in any dramatic way, but some dynamic in the mix of their relationship discovers, allows, generates a Passage In Between. I certainly feel … connected … to this line, and inspired by it in a way I would not have been able to at an earlier point in my life, because the world, and being an “artist,” are only at this point each as fully contradictory and layered, as personally efforted yet historically shaped as I now experience them.
I love this pic of Colin and me!! And I realized the word "passage" is also often used to specifically refer to a few lines or paragraphs of text, such as in a book! So now, in looking at this photo, "It's the passage in between" starts to mean to me parts of texts of this or that actual book of Remy’s, wherein some integrated blend of Remy's struggle and vision are held, articulated, and manifest. And what texts!
“What a Fine Day for a Go and a Road, a Truck and a Load.” (from What a Fine Day For….)
“Isn’t it better to be in a warm bed saying, “Isn’t it better to be in a warm bed rather than out in the cold snow?” rather than out in the cold snow saying, “Isn’t it better to be in a warm bed rather than out in the cold snow?” (from Arm in Arm)
“Once while his mother was baking a cake, John tried on the pots and pans. He liked the way he looked all dressed up, and that gave him an idea. So he called all his friends…” (from Dress Up and Let’s Have a Party)
“Unfortunately there was a hole in the parachute. Fortunately there was a haystack on the ground. Unfortunately there was a pitchfork in the haystack. Fortunately he missed the pitchfork. Unfortunately he missed the haystack.” (from Fortunately)
And “Have a bit to eat and drink. Read from picture books and think” (from A Perfect Day). The illustration for these lines — this passage of the book — has the father and son sprawled out on the floor, looking at quite a few picture books. Upon inspection, they are all Remy Charlip children’s books. If not quite the Droste effect (which he did use in Arm in Arm), this reintegration, this holding of the prior expressions in an image (or phrase — an awareness he had perhaps especially as a choreographer, as much as a writer and illustrator), connects to the warmth and trust one feels reading the book as much as the lovely story itself.
Remy’s art was, among other things, so much about holding. His core gesture, I am feeling across the psychic span (I never met him, sadly), is an embrace. He holds himself, those around him, the splay of art forms he worked in, and for me, the tensions of a rumbling art world’s transitions and workings out. I feel my gayness, for example, which awoke in me in the 1970’s, in some unfolding relationship to Remy’s gayness, but his waking into his sexual self surely happened in the 1940’s. Seth’s location on this timeline (it has changed a lot, in not that many decades, around what is salient, prominent in the America of YOUR chapter of becoming a gay person) is a little after mine, him being younger. Our piece we are making will be performed in San Francisco in 2016, where gayness has very much continued to mean new and different things, certainly in different ways or with different salient, prominent features. These sexuality tendrils becoming sociological plants are of course in the evolving “garden” of this country that Remy, and I, and Seth are sons of. And somehow working in the multiple forms and media of Rainbow Logic, connected, through Remy Charlip’s manifold domains and genres, to Struggle, and to Vision, to Mis-Match, but to Release, and to Creation, just feels artful. As in, art is a way of holding textures, ideas, lines and colors, steps and turns, light and shadow — and pain, and desire to change things, and glee, and celebration of what is here. Be those things in one’s own deep heart, one’s sundry “pots and pans” one can play with (not just “use”), or be they throes and forces on the vast canvas of Western culture’s inquiry and interrogation to its own hardened norms and patterns.
By Paul Loper