Tonja Torgerson explores the dynamics and perceptions of being ill in an exhibit at Craft ChemistryThe walls of Craft Chemistry on North Salina Street will be covered with beautiful, sick women starting Friday, Feb. 17. Minnesota-native artist Tonja Torgerson’s 10 pieces will form this new and intriguing exhibition that deals with the relationship between illness and identity.
Sick at Home is the title Torgerson chose for this show. It derives from an exhibition she had two years ago under the title Sick, where she started expressing her very personal perception of being ill. While Sick at Home is in a way the continuation of that previous body of work, this time she’s approaching the subject of illness from a more familiar and comfortable position.
“Her work stems from the personal as a basis for the political,” says associate professor of printmaking, Holly Greenberg from the department of art at Syracuse University where Torgerson is pursuing her master of fine arts degree. “She’s bringing up political issues that are very meaningful in her own life.”
The different perceptions of sickness are pivotal in Torgerson’s work and the growth process that led to this new exhibition. “Illness is a very personal matter but it is constantly being brought up in a political way, especially with all the health care coverage issues,” Torgerson says. “It’s something that a lot of people have to deal with, yet it’s not something we talk about a lot in our society, it only comes up when we talk about how to pay for it.”
Using primarily printmaking techniques combined with some drawings and paintings, Torgerson will give Craft Chemistry visitors a chance to see the world through her lens. “My work is like my internal thoughts and problem-solving coming out into a public canvas that I’m still trying to figure out,” she says.
Because her work is so personal and close to her private life, she uses the female figure exclusively because that’s the only way she understands the world. “Men are already widely represented in the world, especially in imagery and media,” Torgerson explains of her fourth solo exhibition.
Through beautiful, non-traditional representations of vomiting or bleeding, the women that Torgerson illustrates are revealing their insides to the viewer. “I would say it’s more about a perception that what you show on the outside is not necessarily what’s happening on the inside,” says Greenberg.
Sick at Home features a mix of life-size drawings and paintings as well as some portraits. Torgerson says there will be a few diptychs where two portraits “speak” and “relate” to each other. What is new in this exhibition, and a technique that Torgerson has never shown before, is experimenting with creating her own handmade paper.
“I’m getting a really interesting texture for the first time,” she says. “Most of my work has been in flat colors; this is still made with even colors but they have a really incredible texture to them.” Torgerson’s use of different techniques is intentional and depends on the objective she has for that particular piece.
“When she wants to make an edition of 30 prints for whatever reason, she’ll do screen prints, when she wants to make a large one-of-a-kind piece, she’ll make a painting,” Greenberg notes. “She’s just incredibly perceptive and intuitive about what material needs to be used when.”
These techniques were the first thing that caught Craft Chemistry owner Briana Kohlbrenner’s attention. “She seems to really explore different ways of doing things,” she says. The interest for the concept behind Torgerson’s work came after. “I’ve been looking at the images of her work and you can’t help to want to know more. I’m attracted to the mystery behind it,” she says. Kohlbrenner considers Sick at Home a perfect fit for her gallery because she likes to show non-traditional artwork that pushes the norms.
The women depicted in this exhibition are shown interacting with themselves and “engaging with elements of their bodies but usually in a sense where something isn’t quite right,” as Torgerson describes it. “There’s an element of wrongness or discomfort that’s occurring.”
She understands that her work might be somewhat uncomfortable to view at first, but she’s striving to intrigue the viewers and subtly motivate a reflection. This has already happened with her past work. In particular, she remembers that someone bought a piece she created for Locks of Love, an event where people cut their hair and donate it for wigs for cancer patients.
“She was going to buy it for her sister because she actually had shaved her hair for charity,” Torgerson says. “Even though my work is kind of morose in subject matter, she found that it was very empowering. That was something that really meant a lot to me.” She describes this as “one of the greatest experiences” she’s had with her work.
For Sick at Home, Torgerson is trying to stimulate a reflection about the dichotomy between the external and internal components of our identity as human beings. “Our internal dialogue is incredibly intangible and not material, it’s all these thoughts and ideas, but at the same time it’s incredibly biological; it’s all brain cells and neurons and chemicals,” Tongerson says. “We’re really comfortable with the idea of how people perceive us but we’re not very comfortable with what we’re made up of.”
This contradiction is made evident through the concept of sickness that bonds the pieces of this exhibit together. “It’s going to be a very unique show,” Kohlbrenner promises. “A lot of people are really intrigued by her work so I’m excited to see who comes by to see it.”
Sick at Home opens with a reception on Friday, Feb. 17 at 7 p.m., and runs through March 24, at Craft Chemistry, 745 N. Salina St. For more information, call 424-1474.