As the sesquicentennial of the Civil War culminates this April, the latest show at the j fergeson gallery explores the rich history of the war’s last days. The photography exhibition “Inscribed Landscapes: 150 Years After the Civil War” by Farmville-based artist Michael Mergen opens March 13 and runs through April 20. An artist’s reception will be held Saturday, April 4, from 5:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
“I moved to Farmville several years ago and this work is a direct response to my local landscape,” Mergen explains. “Both the Union and Confederate armies passed through here just two days before Lee surrendered, and it is impossible not to see the lasting impact the Civil War has had on this area.” Mergen traces the route of Lee’s Retreat out of Richmond and Petersburg toward Appomattox, commemorated by Virginia historical highway markers. The markers were erected between 1929 and 2002, reflecting how earlier generations interpreted the Civil War. The Virginia Historical Highway Marker program, now administered by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, is the oldest in the nation.
Direct wax rubbings on the large-scale photographs (32 x 44”) physically imbue the language of the historical markers that chronicle and memorialize the historic landscapes. This binary layering of past and present considers the history, location, and the contemporary sights of rural Virginia.
Mergen, a Philadelphia native, considers the political and civil nature of the United States and its citizens through the medium of photography. Born in 1978, Mergen earned a BFA in photography from the Rochester Institute of Technology in 2000, and an MFA in photography at the Rhode Island School of Design in 2011. His work has been featured in Harper’s, Mother Jones, and Once magazines and featured on Time magazine’s LightBox and Slate. He has exhibited nationally and internationally, and his work is held in several public and private collections, including the University of Maine’s Museum of Art, the Center for Photography at Woodstock, the Longwood Center for the Visual Arts, Urban Outfitters, Inc., and Center for Emerging Visual Artists. Mergen is currently an Assistant Professor of Photography at Longwood University in Farmville, VA.