Late-night art festival lights up the town

Julie DiNisio
Staff Writer

Quaint and cobblestoned Shockoe Slip switched on last Friday night at InLight Richmond, an outdoor exhibition of light sculpture and other light-inspired art. The event began – naturally – as soon as it got dark and lasted until midnight.

1708 Gallery’s InLight Richmond, first held in 2008, is Richmond’s own unique take on the Nuit Blanche – literally either “white night,” “sleepless night” or “all-nighter” in French, an internationally-celebrated tradition of late-night citywide art festivals.

This year, almost 40 illuminated artworks bedecked Cary, Canal and 14th streets.  A Community Lantern Parade, beginning at the James Center, kicked off the celebration.

Families, students and Richmond art lovers wandered the exhibits until 9 p.m., when most had gathered to the Martin Agency plaza for InLight’s Wearable Art Fashion Show. Wearable art was initially a long-standing 1708 Gallery event in its own right before becoming incorporated with InLight events in 2008 – not surprisingly, garments featured in the show were also inspired by light.

Artists all over the country were chosen for InLight by juror Amanda McDonald Crowley, executive director of Eyebeam, an art and technology center in New York City.  Many of them were Richmond based, including Beth Argent, a VCU student, and Robert Walz, a VCU graduate. Each of Argent’s many wheel-thrown luminaries contained tea lights whose flames flickered luminously in the night breeze; Walz’s featured work was a video piece called “Instamatic Sky,” which featured black and white images of Shockoe Slip’s architectural developments.

One installation impossible to miss was South Carolina artist Jacob Stanley’s “Spanning Systems,” an intricate electrical design displayed on the Martin Agency plaza. Using electrical wires and fluorescent lamps, he constructed what he deemed “a bridge or pathway linking two different worlds, the Martin Agency and all of us who can’t access it.” Stanley often works with “industrial castoffs” and ordinary materials as a means to connect with his audience.

While many of the exhibits were assembled on the iconic Shockoe Slip cobblestone, others claimed territory in alcoves and other more concealed spaces. For example, North Carolina artist Karen Niemcyzk’s “SELF” was placed in the basement of one of Shockoe’s many shops. Created while Niemcyzk was living in Sweden, “SELF” is an interactive, motion-sensitive light sculpture electronically wired to react to nearby patrons, engaging in different pulsating sequences depending on the location, direction and intensity of the viewer’s movements. She considered the piece a reflection of “how the world kind of beats up the individual.”

Patrons were encouraged to vote for their favorite exhibits through text messaging, and as midnight approached and InLight was nearing its end, the winners were announced: The People’s Choice Winner was “Analog Audience,” by Wave Coalition, a collaboration of VCU students.  For the piece, as more viewers used their hands to block out light on a photosensitive Plexiglas control board, the larger sculpture would light up brighter and brighter – representing a “concerted effort to produce a greater effect than any individual could create alone,” according to the group’s artist statement.

For their own pick, however, judges chose David Bernstein, Michael Doherty and Ian Collings for their participatory performance piece “(In)Visible.” Participants entered into a completely pitch-black storefront, and their experiences in navigation and perception using only their four remaining senses were projected to viewers outside by means of infrared cameras.

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