Hunt Art Gallery to Host New Exhibition by Celebrated Sound and Textile Artist R. Mertens

August 10, 2021

Textile and sound artist R. Mertens posing alongside artwork at the Modular Project Space in Harrisonburg, VA. (Photo credit: Brandy Somers)

Celebrated sound and textile artist R. Mertens will display a new exhibition titled “Archeology of the Body” at Mary Baldwin’s Hunt Gallery from August 30 to September 24, 2021.

Textile and sound artist R. Mertens posing alongside artwork at the Modular Project Space in Harrisonburg, VA. (Photo credit: Brandy Somers)

Originally from Wisconsin, Mertens currently directs the fiber arts and weaving department at James Madison University’s School of Art, Design and Art History.

“My work revolves around the intersections between technology, religion, science, and myth,” said Mertens in a statement. “These pieces combine new media with traditional fiber craft and culminate in performances, installations, and powered sculptures.” 

Mertens’ resume includes directorships at the Modular Project Space artist residency in Virginia, the 543 Artist Residency and Le Toilette Gallery in Oregon, and Chicago’s Weaving Room Recording Studio.

Here, Mertens offers insight into his latest exhibition:

As an artist working within the Fiber Art discipline, the process and materials of my work inform the content and metaphors I employ. For this series of works I’ve been developing a process of hand-coiled basket forms, crochet forms, and floor loom woven forms that feature ungalvanized steel and raw wool roving. Once the raw wool and steel forms are developed, I machine wet-felt them. The resulting process leaves the wool forms felted and contorted in unpredictable ways and causes the steel to rust. The forms will continue to rust in open air until they become frail and fall apart. 

I view the basket form as a vessel not unlike the human body and the processes of felting [as] the external forces that form us as we grow. Through such a lens, the random shaping of the felting process becomes a metaphor for the lack of control we have over our lives: The rusting process leads to the ‘death’ of the form over time. It is a gradual buildup of rust that creates the color palette, deepening in color over time, which will eventually destroy it. These pieces are thus metaphors for human existence.

A reception for Mertens will be held at MBU’s Hunt Gallery on Monday, Sept. 6 from 4:30 – 6 p.m. The public is warmly invited to attend.  

The Hunt Gallery is dedicated to the exhibition of contemporary work in all media by regionally and nationally recognized artists. The gallery is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Mon. through Fri. throughout the academic year. Its schedule for the 2021–22 academic year can be found online at: www.marybaldwin.edu/arts/huntgallery