Since being diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago, artist Torrie Groening has felt bombarded with constant reminders of her disease — all in various shades of pink. She once cried in the frozen food section of a grocery store because she was trying to find a box of fruit pops for her son that didn’t have pink ribbons on it.
“My husband and I started to make a game of finding the most ridiculous or offensive pink ribbon object,” says Groening, a photographer and printmaker who will exhibit her pivotal piece “This Elixir Won’t Fix Her” in “Think Before You Pink.” The benefit show for San Francisco-based nonprofit Breast Cancer Action opens at ArtHaus in The City on Friday.
“This led me to a little online searching of ‘pink ribbon shop’ or ‘pink ribbon store,’” she says. “I discovered this is a huge industry!”
In a 2001 Harper’s magazine article, journalist Barbara Ehrenreich called the breast cancer pink ribbon movement “a cult [that] turns women into dupes of corporations that produce carcinogens and then offer toxic pharmaceutical treatments.”
Groening has a similar take.
“I think the pink ribbon campaigns target women — and men — on a fundamental level: fear and guilt,” she says. “Pink things are purchased for insurance against cancer and to ease the ‘survivor guilt’ of friends and family who are, so far, the lucky ones.”
A photographer and traditional and digital printmaker who divides her time between her native Vancouver, Canada, and San Francisco, Groening’s collages are collections of objects that take on new meaning when placed near each other.
Much of her work plays with our notions of what is natural and what’s inert. People become still lifes and items, such as a perfume atomizer, exhibit an unexpected sense of vitality.
In her well-known photo piece “Amuse Bouche,” a woman — shot from the neck down — sketches at a table covered with breads, cheese, an old-fashioned pencil sharpener, camera, sketches and roses. So many items command the viewer’s attention that one may not notice the third hand the woman is sketching with.
Groening says she began making “Elixir” as sort of a joke, but she soon found the image evolving into a compelling work.
“Everyone copes differently, and for me, concentrating on cancer was depressing and nonproductive,” she says. “I made a determined decision to stay focused on my artwork, be positive for my family and keep my sense of humor.”
If You Go
Think Before You Pink
Where: ArtHaus, 411 Brannan St., San Francisco
When: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays; noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays; opening reception 6 p.m. Friday; closes Oct. 31
Contact: (415) 977 0223, www.arthaus-sf.com