In her collection, Testament, Jennifer B. Thoreson’s staged photography and installations illustrate a complex range of human interactions, experiences, and relationships. Each scene is portrayed within a series of spaces, alongside an assemblage of sculptures and objects, that bear witness to the lives she represents. In this series of work, she investigates “the spiritual labor of bearing weight, submission, futility, and persistence.” The collection is a testament to the heavy burdens of life – physical, emotional, and spiritual – and to the resilience of humanity and our most foundational connections – those of family, lovers, and friends. The installed exhibition echoes the themes of the photographs, and uses a material language connected to the bible to tell a story of sacrifice, promise, and transformation. In each photograph, the audience sees a moment of connection or solitude in which Thoreson invests a piece of herself, telling some aspect of her own childhood, memory, faith, and spirituality. By creating a work that is so rich and personal, she allows the viewer to connect personally to the narratives she tells.
In the photograph, “Cancer,” Thoreson captures a man and woman in a bedroom, flanked by two dogs. The bedroom is sparsely furnished with a bed in the corner, a chair at its foot, and several quotidian objects in the scene. The man stands on the bed facing the wall and is engulfed by a deep red organic mass emanating from his head. The woman, also facing the wall, appears to be sleeping. The two are in physical contact, connected at their legs. We wonder where in this image does the cancer lie? Is it the red mass, growing out of the man in an outwardly visible way? Or, does the man have cancer within his body, and the emanating red is a visible sign that he feels trapped, unable to see out, as the woman lays by his side? Does the woman have cancer, and the red is a sign of the grief and fear experienced by the man for the one he loves, a physical burden for him to carry? The depth of the work leaves space for any of these possibilities and more. Thoreson allows the meaning of her photographs to be arrived at individually, to depend upon the experiences of the viewer.
Throughout the collection, Thoreson explores the intricacies of many types of relationships. In “Father Daughter,” the father figure, heavy-laden with the pilings of a bulbous shell that seems to cripple him, pulling him towards the bed, is tenderly confronted by his daughter. Thoreson inverts the assumed relationship of parent and child, and shows the young girl caring for her father, encouraging him as he feels and bears the great burdens of his life. In “Inseparable,” two women – perhaps friends, sisters, or partners – are inexorably joined together. With shackled limbs, one reaches out while the other pulls away. Thoreson captures an irony, an unevenness, at times a suffocation that can exist in an “inseparable” relationship. She creates the same complexity, vulnerability, and emotion in each of her photographs as she expertly captures cares and burdens that are widely experienced but in incredibly personal, individualized ways.