MOTHER MADE ME
collage by Marlo Crocifisso
written by Ryan Simón
MARLO CROCIFISSO is a painter, collage artist, and a founding member of Von Common, an art collective based in Missoula, MT. Having explored both the graffiti underground and the European circuit of master painters, such as Caravaggio, Guido Reni, and Van Gogh, Marlo experiments with a classically-inspired, street-informed style that’s at once sacred and sacrilegious, profoundly divine and devastatingly human.
Given Marlo’s travels across Europe, both above- and underground, I imagine her influences are many and internationally diverse. And yet, when we met, she was very obviously the sole personality behind her artwork: dyed-blonde hair, plaid lumberjack jacket, exotic cat-print pants — Marlo authentically wore the colors I earlier found in her erratically elaborate paintings. Which is pretty fucking cool, really: to see the art in the artist to such an appropriate degree. Even so, the physical origins of her artwork vary, as Marlo uses a remixed “sampling” technique to piece together her compositions from various images, especially for her more recent works which have generally departed from traditional painting towards a more cut-&-paste (re)format.
I find the collage very interesting: it’s a patently hip art form that hit the pop cultural mainstream with hip-hop’s repurposing of past vocals, beats, and soundbites into new songs with new meanings. It’s boundless creativity working against preset limitations, which requires a sort of work-with-what-you-got resourcefulness. Visually, the collage is a reformulation of photos, sketches, icons, etc. whose whole is greater than its parts, superadded by an artistic layer of meta-commentary on the collage’s central image.
The central image of Marlo’s collage Mother Made Me — elsewhere listed as Mother Made Me Wear Pink — is a portrait of a modest, pink-dressed girl; a photo originally gifted to Marlo years ago by a now-ex-boyfriend. The photo has since been vandalized into art, as you can see, the implications of which, with regards to Marlo’s ex-relationship, remain unclear.
I asked what was the ex’s reaction to the obscene transformation of his ancestor’s portrait, and, admittedly, Marlo regretted even revealing the photo’s history to me. She’d prefer her viewers to approach her art unaided and uninformed, to bring their own interpretation to the table. I’ve since shown Marlo’s Mother Made Me to a dozen or so people to register their individual reactions, which range anywhere from lamenting our culture’s “moral degradation” to calculating the “phoniness of modesty” to “I think she’s pregnant.” To me, its aura of sacrilegious divinity is Ginsbergian, and yet, as a visual artwork, it’s greater than Allen Ginsberg’s word-based poetry. It’s erotic — it’s sensually provocative and viscerally visible in a way that corrupts vision with animal feeling, usurping Apollonian sunlight with volcanic, form-obliterating heat.
So, with these feelings lighting a fire under my ass, here’s what I see in Marlo’s Mother Made Me.
I. THE EYE OF IMPROVIDENCE
fig. 1 – Three golden figurines with ambiguously androgynous features flounder in a violent vortex centrifugal to the girl’s Gorgon eye!
The pink-dressed girl, the primary “Me” in Mother Made Me, subverts the Eye of Providence, the pyramidal “all-seeing eye of God” found on the U.S. dollar bill. The billowing pink dress forced upon the girl by “Mother” forms the pyramid, atop which rests the Gorgon eye, the eye most commonly associated with snake-haired Medusa whose gaze turns men to stone. Whereas the all-seeing eye of God grants vision and foresight, casting light to grant the world form, the Gorgon eye is more mouth than eye: the Gorgon’s gaze eats vision and light, rendering the viewer blind and crushing consciousness into formless, shadowy oblivion.
God’s eye is solar. The Gorgon’s eye is earthly and vaginal, thus the Gorgon’s eye belongs to the Great Mother — i.e., mother nature.
I call the pink-dressed girl’s Gorgon eye the Eye of Improvidence — of blindness. Symbolically, pyramids are hierarchical. And so by usurping the all-seeing eye of God, the Eye of Improvidence ascends the hierarchy, restating a new world order in the collage’s jagged hellscape. By forcing the girl into a pink dress, the unseen mother is essentially advertising her daughter’s maternal capacity, effectively operating as her daughter’s compassionate, caring, civil pimp. The plump, fertile daughter glows with looming motherhood.
Viewer, feast your eyes on those child-bearing hips!
St. Augustine says, “Inter faeces et urinam nascimur” — or, “Between feces and urine we are born” — and he’s not wrong: our entrance into this world is located between the anus and the urethra, positioning humankind as just another one of Mother’s excretions — albeit a uniquely active, conscious excrement.
This deeply misogynist worldview rightfully observes our factual, maternal origin. Our Judeo-Christian Father eloquently speaks the world into existence, letting there be a living galaxy through His words, meanwhile Mother simply shits and — plop! — here we are. This parallels the chicken vs. egg paradox: did God create Mother or did Mother create God? Marlo Crocifisso’s Mother Made Me takes a stand: Mother is Maker. She is both author and authority: Mother made (created) “me” and makes “me” (forces “me” to) behave accordingly — the “me” in Crocifisso’s collage primarily being the pink-dressed girl, as well as all subordinates to Mother’s rule, as Carl Jung says, “The familiar word ‘mother’ refers apparently to the best-known of mothers in particular — to ‘my mother.’ But the mother symbol points to a darker meaning which eludes conceptual formulation and can only be vaguely apprehended as the hidden, nature-bound life of the body.” And, yet, he adds that “even this expression is too narrow, and excludes too many side-meanings.”
At once, “Mother” here is the literal “my mother,” the personal mother who birthed you, and the incomprehensible totality of our nature mother, the Great Mother. Mother, as the Great Mother, levels reality to corporeality, submerging mind into matter — intellectual thought into neurochemical impulse. Under Mother’s reign, Godly foresight crumbles to the biological eye, typified by the embryonic encasement of the girl’s Gorgon crown. The personal mother tries concealing the Great Mother under a veneer of modesty and manners — under a voluptuous pink dress — yet, like weeds bursting through concrete, the Great Mother always overcomes.
From a distance, the three figurine projectiles orbiting the Gorgon eye appear winged, flying freely. Those are not wings but long spikes uncannily protruding from their chests. Such a large bosom typically signifies comfort and care, nurture and nourishment. Not here. These chest-spikes horrifically parody the female mammary, solidifying the jiggly breast into a sharp dagger. Like the bee’s barbed stinger, like the rose’s thorns, the figurines’ dangerously sharp chests render the girl’s Gorgon eye into a sort of vagina dentata, or toothed vagina, a folk symbol prevalent in various ancient cultures, signifying the unknown, hidden dangers of our man-eating nature mother. The golden figurines, like the golden scythe-rays circling the eye and piercing the girl’s head, emanate from the eye like vengeful “toothed” mercenaries, released to indiscriminately tear, impale, and inseminate. Spore-like, they torpedo with violent, hermaphroditic procreativity.
Forced into civility by her mother, the pink-dressed girl dons her best Mona Lisa smile. Yet, boiling beneath the concrete surface lurks the girl’s Gorgon eye, the Great Mother’s Eye of Improvidence that vaginally links mother to daughter, and soon to the daughter’s daughters — like a mouth opening to reveal another mouth opening to another mouth ad infinitum. The girl will soon be deflowered of her pink dress upon her marriage bed. The Great Chain of Being demands the sacrifice of virgins for the procreation of more sacrificial virgins — and so on.
II. THE WORLD’S OLDEST PROFESSION
fig. 2 – Two trailer park girls go round the outside.
In sexual ecstasy, we close our eyes to better experience pleasure, a gratifying escape from pain. Nature directs bodily instinct by two master principles: pleasure and pain, the former bribing us to participate in the painful necessities of labor and child-birth. Hypersexualized, the collage’s near-naked blondes have no eyes, living forever in servitude to their mother-born bodies. They lack the capacity to gaze and may only be gazed upon. Vision facilitates sexual indulgence, which is why the Ancient Greeks, namely Aristotle, believed that semen originates from the region around the eyes. This perhaps explains the false belief that excessive masturbation leads to blindness, a myth that prevails in extreme religious circles today. Even so, the collage’s pornographic elements threaten to overwhelm our gaze with bodily impulse, impairing vision with the biological eye, and, consequently, corrupting the mind with neurochemical cravings.
The Great Mother displays the two blondes for our voyeuristic satisfaction. Likewise, the personal mother makes the girl wear the pink dress for the approval of her suitor/husband — and of civilized society at large. The voluptuous dress, an accentuation of the girl’s child-bearing hips, sublimates her procreative sexuality into a more civilized, refined form. Just as the video porn industry reveals the underlying sexual mechanics of mainstream Hollywood film, the blind, near-naked blondes “undress” the girl, so to speak, literalizing the dress’s sexual implications in bare, explicit terms. Marital consummation or rampant prostitution — although the latter possesses a greater organism-reproducing capacity via the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, Mother accepts both. All sex acts here, however modest, consecrate the body at the Great Mother’s altar.
Consider the chorus from Nine Inch Nail’s “Closer“:
I want to fuck you like an animal
I want to feel you from the inside
I want to fuck you like an animal
My whole existence is flawed
You get me closer to god
Here, “god” is not God, our Father, but the Great Mother of the gods — the Goddess, whose inner sanctum is the life-incubating womb. Thus, to get closer to the Goddess, the lustful pilgrim foregoes praying for fucking.
“BUY A SHARE IN AMERICA,” reads the left blonde’s bra strap, recalling the pink-dressed girl’s inversion of the U.S. dollar’s Eye of Providence. The blonde is a walking advertisement for the American free market, which sees the daily transfer of millions of dollars for pornography and prostitution alone. Like the billboard’s bespectacled eyes overlooking the valley of ashes in The Great Gatsby, the U.S. dollar’s Eye of Providence, the all-seeing eye of God, watches and judges our spending. A free market of material goods unrestrained by an immaterial code of ethics quickly spirals into nihilistic hedonism and corporate slavery. But the Great Mother does not recognize the immaterial, because, again, Mother levels reality to corporeality, to the material body. We sacrifice love for lust in the name of the Goddess, whose preference for polygamous “Free Love” over marital monogamy is severely challenged by the ascetic, religious monk who rejects sex altogether.
The “BUY A SHARE IN AMERICA” advertisement’s position over the bra’s clasp indicates that money unlocks the blonde’s most visually appealing assets: her breasts. And the spending is encouraged not only for the viewer’s sexual satisfaction but for America’s gain. America is the blonde’s pimp, who clearly understands the enormous profit potential found in exploiting our lustful impulses. What parallels may we draw here between the blondes and the pink-dressed girl? For one, the pink dress, like the bra label, functions as a sort of “For Sale” sign, advertising her motherly form. The collage displays both the pink-dressed girl and the blondes in almost entirely sexual terms, reducing the girls to their uteri. From there, the pink-dressed girl and the blondes diverge: the girl keeps her vision and smile, the blondes lose theirs.
By subverting the Eye of Providence, by supplanting the all-seeing eye of God with the embryonic Gorgon eye, the Eye of Improvidence eats our eyes, amplifying bodily pain and pleasure. Dependent upon Mother to see and choose for them, the blind, blonde minions remain at the base of Her pyramidal daughter, a soon-to-be mother and, thus, a continuation of Mother; their pale forms shielded from God’s harsh, revealing, judgmental sun-rays. I imagine them anxiously scurrying in and out of the girl’s pink dress, like the children Polichinelles hiding under Mother Ginger’s massive hoop skirt from the ballet The Nutcracker.
Forever nocturnal, the blondes never leave the comfort and care of Mother’s warm, enclosed basement.
III. STRIPPED BARE
fig 3. – Sparagmos, n., Ancient Greek: σπαραγμός, from σπαράσσω sparasso, “tear, rend, pull to pieces”; usually associated with Dionysian cult worship and followed by omophagia, the eating of raw, dismembered flesh.
Beautiful Marilyn Monroe once said, “Sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.” Remove “good” and “better,” and you have a universally true statement here: destruction permits creation.
The collage quite literally works by this principle: Marlo Crocifisso, the real-life “mother,” or creator, of Mother Made Me, tore and pieced together other images to create this composition. Form and content unite in Marlo’s collage: the subject matter, Mother’s violent procreativity, parallels Marlo’s form-tearing creative process. Sparagmos, the Dionysian rite of bodily dismemberment and dissemination, ecstatically re-enacts and revels in natural chaos and randomness. Practicing this sort of cult ritual violates social norms, which depend upon order and predictability; although sparagmos, as a cult act, generally remains within the artistic realm, depicted and explored through artworks such as Mother Made Me. Ancient animal and human ritual killings ended with omophagy, the eating of the dismembered meat as a means to assimilate with the nature-domineering gods who unartistically committed sparagmos to a terrifying, arbitrary degree. However, today, the art collage suffices.
This pagan cult act survives in the Christian Church through the Eucharist, the consumption of Christ’s body and blood through sacramental bread and wine. If you want to become God, eat Him. In Mother Made Me, omophagia symbolically occurs via the viewer’s visual consumption of the collage. Again, the Gorgon eye is more mouth than eye. Piqued by the collage’s provocative demonism and the pornographically exposed blondes, the viewer’s gaze is (at least initially) more carnally charged than intellectually focused. A dismembered woman’s leg, red and orange strips, swollen lips — Marlo arranges a meaty feast for the eyes, employing a color palette that brings to mind McDonald’s golden arches and greasy chicken nuggets. Sexual desire is not unlike hunger.
Yet, submission to that hunger is consumption by the Gorgon eye. Visually feasting, our eyes transform into mouths, vision fails to biology, and our umbilical cords reattach to the Great Mother. By feasting, we get eaten. We lose foresight, as immediate pleasure becomes paramount. Even the pleasure-renouncing monk inevitably gets eaten by Mother.
As such, Mother lovingly brings us into this world only to slowly, sadistically tear us apart and, in the end, swallow us whole. Ashes to ashes, womb to tomb.
Ryan Simón is a Montana-based writer and the founding editor of AMERICAN VULGARIA. To send an idea for an article or art feature, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.