Torgerson's Body Politic Series Exhibited at Kent State
2022 Mid America Print Council Conference showcases Torgerson's "Body Politic" series
Wednesday, November 09, 2022
"Body Politic" is a collaborative series of prints by Eskenazi Lecturer in Printmaking Tonja Torgerson and Christa Carleton. The work is on view through November 19 as part of the 2022 Mid America Print Council Biennial Conference hosted by Kent State University. Using letterpress, screenprint, and woodcut, the prints combine text and image in a format evocative of mass-distributed print media such as broadsides and posters. Torgerson collaborated with Carleton -- who is a screenprint technician at a textile printing business in Missoula, Montana -- by sending the prints back and forth through the mail.
The series may be viewed at Torgerson's website. More information is available at the embedded links about the exhibition and the conference. Torgerson and Carleton provided the following responses by e-mail the day of the midterm elections.
Q: Tonja, it’s election week and this series is explicitly political in its content. I’m thinking immediately of an image of a nude woman who’s covering her face in her hands and surrounded by the numbers 1973 -- ostensibly referring to the year the Supreme Court decided Roe v Wade. In June of this year, of course, that decision was reversed. Did this series begin then? Talk about how "Body Politic" came about, including the collaborative process with Christa.
Torgerson: Christa and I have been friends for some time, and share very similar aesthetics and interests in our artwork even before then. This project began as a conversation about making collaborative work together after a printmaking conference in 2018. But we have been actively developing this body of work since 2020, with the first piece completed in the Fall of 2020.
Carleton: The first piece we made was “You’re Looking at Me Like I’m See Through.” We often worked by sending scanned figurative drawings to each other and allowing the other person to respond to those drawings by mocking them up into a composition—we would discuss over Zoom what we liked and what we didn’t think was working and re-group later on. Each piece in the series is entirely a 50/50 collaboration. We worked really hard to make sure that this exhibition would feel that way for both of us, and I can remember how each piece began and evolved.
Torgerson: “Revoked” was a reaction to the Dobbs decision being leaked in May of 2022, and Christa developed the initial sketch for it. We worked on the piece over the next month or so, but delayed finishing it until the Supreme Court’s final decision was officially announced. I was holding on to a false hope that we wouldn’t have to complete it.
Q: Your nude figures assume tormented postures, and are surrounded by misogynistic messages -- “She’s Just Crazy", “Keep it Down” -- along with responses and adaptations to them -- "Fight, Flight, Fawn, Freeze." This autumn marks the five-year anniversary of the #metoo movement. Any reflections on that anniversary here?
Carleton: The #metoo movement was so important and I think it still resonates today, but I feel like as a nation we have lived through so many unprecedented events over the last two years that have changed and rattled America that #metoo wasn’t specifically on my mind making this work. Each social movement (especially movements that have raised awareness about gender inequality) were crucial to us and I feel like they are a foundation to which we are building a few blocks upon— adding to the collective roar of unrest with two more voices.
Torgerson: I agree with Christa. While #metoo was and remains important, it is not the only social movement we are responding to with this series. We wanted to add our voices to push for social change and advocate for a new perspective through intersectional feminism.
Q: These sardonic, feminist messages bring to mind the work of Jenny Holzer and Barbara Kruger in the eighties. Are those artists godmothers for you?
Torgerson: Absolutely. There have been a lot of important contemporary artists that have used text and societal issues within their work that were influential to me, including the Guerilla Girls, Leslie Dill, Amos Kennedy, Kruger, Holzer, and many more.
Carleton: I love Kruger and Holzer. I wouldn’t think about text as image without them and I wouldn’t call myself a feminist without their critical contributions to Art.
Q: The use of the broadside or poster format seems to be another way of reinforcing the political content of this work. Do you consider or reflect upon the history of printmaking as a medium “for the people,” to share messages broadly, versus the more rarefied contexts in which art often is shared (museums or galleries)? Do you do anything in the way you share/exhibit/reproduce your work to make your art even more democratic and/or relevant?
Torgerson: I think one of the many reasons we were both drawn to printmaking was because of the multiple -- the ability to make many or few and how that effects the content of the work. For this series, one specific piece is a set of three pads of Risograph prints (which was made up of several hundred prints in total). The viewer is welcome to tear off one of the prints, thus revealing a new image underneath. Hung as a triptych, this piece constantly changes and evolves as people remove the prints. It was also a way in which we could directly give work to our viewer for free.
Q: How does this work relate to the rest of your body of work? Is your work normally figurative? Is it usually overtly political? And do you usually blend word and image?
Carleton: My work outside of our collaboration regularly uses figures overlaid with text and addresses political issues. I translate the personal into public images as a way to be vulnerable and break down social norms.
Torgerson: My other work deals with the figure, but from a very different lens. I am typically dealing with the failure of the body, and how a change in the body creates a change in how we see and understand ourselves. I have used text within my practice for a long time, but it is something I have done less of recently, so I really enjoyed coming back to the pairing of text and imagery for this project.
Q: Tonja, when it comes to big issues like social justice or environmental degradation, can art play a significant role in effecting change? Do you believe that it an artist’s responsibility to create work with a conscience? Is it a balancing act to make message-driven artwork? (For example, do you risk sacrificing aesthetic considerations in the service of message or is that a non-issue?) What do you tell your students about making art with a message?
Torgerson: It’s a good question. In my Printmaking BFA Seminar course, students have been presenting and leading group discussions on readings that are important to their art practice. Last week, one of my students presented an article by Tom Anderson and Anniina Suominen Guyas about how art can be a means to paradigm shift within a society, which is apt to your question. It is not my place to tell anyone what they should focus on communicating with their art. But I do try to empower students with the knowledge that art can be a way of changing thought or opening perspectives for others.