SUSAN MOGUL and RHODA BLATE MOGUL
By Rosanna Albertini
“We are all primordially accustomed to consider ourselves mental realities while we consider others physical realities … we vaguely consider others mental realities, but only in the act of love or in a fight do we take recognizance of the fact that others, as we do for ourselves, have, above all, a soul.” Fernando Pessoa
The mother. Rhoda, is alive. At age 88 she is moving out of her house; she will leave behind her life’s carapace. Fifty years of measuring days and nights in the same shell. That’s barely imaginable. Only insects and snakes do it. And of course, snails. The rest, which is her body, will follow her.
The living matter becomes, all life long, an intangible bundle stored in the brain, the skin, the DNA, the organs, for changes ready to flow, to become physical events as capricious as the weather. Decisions, or feelings, are mysterious guests.
The daughter. Susan Mogul turned out to be one of the few artists able to add a comic dressing to “the salad of life.” Thinking about her mother’s move, though, she began to secrete and make visible a different cocoon, a thin silky thread that tied together mother and daughter in one inextricable bundle of stories.
Mama’s Girl Suite, video 3′ 45″ (Work in Progress) © Susan Mogul
The video Susan produced so far is a serious portrait of her feelings for another woman from whose body she came. Apparently, (I never met her) the body of a mother who built a fair game around the similarities with her daughter, an art of equal rights, at least in their mental exchange. Fragments from twenty years of letters to her daughter were read by Susan to the public in a comedic-cabaret performance in the mid eighties. Susan showed the copyright sign drawn by her mother on each letter. Just to make sure who’s who.
If Susan performed wearing her mother’s old dresses, Rhoda saw her own old body inside them. Such a special connection, to strip sentimentality from their relation. God knows how, love for ART took a significant place in their lives. Dresses, words, symbols, could be laughable. Not so the essence of the exchange between the two women.
“In point of fact, we possess nothing more than our sensations; within them, therefore, and not within what we see, we must found the reality of our lives.” F.P.
As we look at the images in this video, in fact, we grab what’s behind them: the artist’s feelings about a woman who is more than her life’s tapestry: a mother of six, the smart decorator of her house inspired by contemporary arts and design, the gardener, the wife. In her daughter’s feeling she is an artist. Her figure and Diane Arbus’s overlap in Susan’s mind.
SUSAN MOGUL, Mom/Susan Pregnant Sextet, 1965/2014, digital print
Sextet was created from Mom’s self-portrait as pregnant photographer and me mimicking Mom pregnant. An iconic image in the project, it represents the fertile creative banter between mother and daughter. S.M.
Yet mother and daughter also share one more treasure, something which is often erased by educational and moral obsessions based on a supposed primacy of the mind: Susan and Rhoda could see each other as physical realities, and compare their bodies, and play with images of real and fake pregnancy.
This probably doesn’t mean the mother-daughter connection was so perfect that tensions, along with the normal daily competition, had disappeared. But Rhoda gave Susan the most rare present: physical awareness. Love and appreciation for the odd animal shape we are. Such bond comes first, it starts way before personality and actions bump into the skin of our physical status like rocks into a lake.
Life can be unfair. Culture even more, throwing contempt against the housewive condition.
Most of the time it was a necessity, not a choice. In many countries and even in the U.S., it still is. My own mother was a beautiful person forced to surrender to the after-war hardship. What happened to her is only partially my life, but the softness of her skin, her shoulders, her hand, her fingers, they are so much my life that I feel them in me, and with infinite gratitude.
MOLE IN THE HOLE 1963
Magic marker on commercial birthday card
A birthday card I made for my mother at the age of fourteen.
Mom is the Mole and the Hole is her darkroom. All my coinage.
As a teenager, I often made satirical humorous cards for Mom.
I always represented Mom besieged by six kids. This is the only card where I pictured her solitary, working in her darkroom – the one place at home where she could escape from Dad and the kids and be by herself. SM