Exhibition Reviews | Visual Arts

Jesse Meredith’s Photographic Installation Crawls Through the Camouflage of America’s Militia Movement

Installation view of Jesse Meredith’s “So That We May Not Fear” at Finch Lane Gallery

Camouflage clothing, tactical vests, dirt, men hidden among trees laid flat along the earth in an army crawl, fill the room of Jesse Meredith’s So That We May Fear Not currently on display at Finch Lane Gallery. At first glance, one might assume that this show focuses on military personnel and war, but further inspection will quickly prove this inaccurate. These men adorned in camouflage clothing and hiding among tall dry grass are not part of any army, but rather a militia — a group of men who are often not professionally trained, are uncontrolled by the government, and who spend their time training and sometimes enacting heroic fantasies that may bear little resemblance to current conflicts in American society.

Meredith himself joined a midwestern militia in 2016 to better understand this movement and the men who join it. He hopes this show will bridge ideological gaps and promote conversations that might offer different paths beyond dismissal and anger. Many of the photos used in the show have words etched into the glass that cast a shadow onto the image. Phrases about fear, loss, belief, and tyranny add insight and discussion to the images that accompany them.

Jesse Meredith, “STWMFN,” 2022, C-print, etched glass

The image “STWMFN” features a man, in camo, laying on his side on the ground. His upper body propped up on his elbow and his gloved hand covers his face, obscuring his identity. Etched into the glass are the words “So That We May Fear Not.” Placed near this work is “Defense Mechanism.” This work is printed on a performance fabric and is hung with paracord that stretches the fabric out on all sides. The image is blurred around the edges and focus is given to a man crawling out of high grass into a barren area of red dirt. This image says, “No Urgency like the urgency of fear No Fear like the fear of loss.” Both of these works highlight the role fear might play for those joining a militia. Fear is a powerful emotion, but one that can often be subdued with information and understanding. Fear can fuel a group like this, who when faced with cultural progress immediately begin to feel that their way of life is under attack.

Jesse Meredith, “Defense Mechanism,” 2022, Ripstop X-pac, grommets, paracord

This is also highlighted in the work “Claim.” In the photo, two men, backs to the camera, look out over an open area of tall green grass. The man on the left has his arms outstretched as if explaining something to the man who stands next to him. Etched in the glass starting from the top and traveling down the length of the photo are the words, “What Was Promised, What was Given, What was Taken, What Was Inherited, What Was Earned, and What is Deserved.” These phrases almost pose themselves as questions to be asked, thoughtfully considered, and understood by all those who exist in privileged circles.

Jesse Meredith, “Claim,” 2022, C-print, etched glass

So That We May Fear Not invites its viewers to consider powerful motivators that may push an individual to see change in the world as a personal attack but to also have the self-awareness to seek truth past the whitewashed version of American History. In Meredith’s exhibition statement he shared the purpose of the show as a way to examine the ideologies of these defensive militia groups so that “we might re-weave them into a softer, more collaborative future.” The show leaves its viewers in a contemplative state, eager for discussion and change.

Jesse Meredith: So That We May Not Fear, Finch Lane Gallery, Salt Lake City, through Apr. 22.



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