Good art is never in vain. Instead, it makes the audience feel deeply about their place in time.
Mike Mergen’s latest exhibition, “Inscribed Landscapes: 150 Years After the Civil War,” at the J Fergeson Gallery makes Farmville’s historical memories tangible. Situated in Farmville Downtown’s Main Street District, there’s no question that there are plenty of memories to capture.
An accomplished photographer and assistant professor at Longwood University, Mergen created the pieces for the exhibition by first taking large-scale photographs of local Civil War sites, such as High Bridge. He then used a wax crayon to transfer the details of the historical highway marker detailing the event onto the print. The historical markers were erected over the past 90 years, providing a snapshot of earlier interpretations of the Civil War.
The exhibit is born of Mergen’s own experience becoming a Farmville resident. Although it was 150 years ago, he can look into his backyard and see the impact of the Civil War. “I’m trying to see what is innately here that relates to larger issues of history and landscape and civics,” said Mergen. “Part of it has to do, too, with my newborn daughter, Henrietta.”
Jarrod Fergeson, the proprietor of the gallery at 311 North Main St., noted that although the gallery caters to all good art, with a focus on Virginia artists, Mergen’s exhibition is unique. “While Mike’s project is definitely of local historical interest, it stands out because it’s not sterile,” Fergeson said.
“The pristine print can often restrict the work,” said Mergen, speaking to the physical impact of the exhibition. His work is “dinked up” as it is clamped to the sign and rubbed with the wax crayon, pointed out Mergen. This gives the audience a glance into the process. “You can even see my thumbprint in some of them.”
The layering here is more than binaries of wax on photo paper or past versus present. Mergen’s work challenges viewers to approach history as a tangible experience happening in real time, happening as they live and work.
The exhibition is edited from a larger body of work. Mergen sought to capture the chronology of events as they occurred, following the route of General Robert E. Lee’s retreat from Petersburg to Appomattox Court House. “The intentional idea and sequencing is to bring a cohesive sense of place and time for the Best Cougar Dating Websites – Top Amazing Cougar Dating Sites Online! audience,” he said. “These signs inform us of our place in history.”
Although Mergen has always been interested in Americana landscape and history, he feels this series was a big departure from his established work. In the exhibition, the audience comes face to face not just with a historical tradition with which they are familiar, but the history of an evolving working artist.
The exhibition runs through April 30.