Sculpture professor digs into the past — literally

"Shadows Are To Shade" is the newest exhibit from VCUarts professor of sculpture and extended media Corin Hewitt. Photo by Tzeggai Isaac

Quentin Rice, Staff Writer

Casts of hands, knees, rocks and coins are all part of the newest exhibit from VCUarts professor of sculpture and extended media Corin Hewitt. Hewitt visited the Institute for Contemporary Art on Wednesday to speak about his career and current project, “Shadows are to Shade,” which is on display at the ICA until Sunday.

The artist grew up in a cabin in East Corinth, Vermont, his namesake. He was surrounded by art since birth, between his father, a painter, and his mother, a painter and toymaker. The cabin had no electricity or running water, so Hewitt’s time there laid the foundation for his interest in land, the history surrounding it and how humans interact with that history.

Hewitt later found work in New York as a plumber, which often required him to dig into the interior of houses and apartment complexes. “I would find these bits of trash, left-behind wrappers, cans of soda or preserved food,” Hewitt said. “I was always fascinated by the stories they had to tell.” 

Photo by Tzeggai Isaac

The artist found a way to weave trash and its stories into his art in the mid-2000s. Still living in New York, Hewitt asked the city for some trash picked up by street sweepers. The city obliged, and Hewitt dried out the rubbish and worked it into a rainbow, complete with layers of dirt and trash. 

“There were far more lotto tickets than anything else,” Hewitt said. “You had wrappers and bottle caps and socks, but there were a lot of lotto tickets.”

In 2017, Hewitt began digging in his house at West Main and South Granby streets for his current project, “Shadows are to Shade.” He dug two holes: one he filled with artifacts he found during the dig, and the other he filled with replicas of those artifacts. Part of his inspiration for the project was William T. Ford, a Confederate deserter who lived at the house around 1880. Ford worked as a teamster, which meant he hauled clay from the James River into the city when Richmond was being heavily developed. 

Hewitt found many mundane relics from Ford’s era that one might expect at such a location: bits of broken pottery, coins, silverware and other unremarkable household items. Rather than trying to find or assign meaning and context to these objects, Hewitt embraced and celebrated the apparent meaninglessness of the findings by creating replicas. Hewitt had experimented with how images relate to real-world objects in the past with other sculpting projects, so this was a very appropriate evolution. 

Hewitt expressed gratitude that this project was not as personally retrospective as some of his past works, but it still gave him an opportunity to examine his relationship to the past. 

“On one level it’s autobiographical. My associations are not based on phrenology,” Hewitt said. “I’m not creating a story, I’m just telling one by pulling things out of the ground and being present. I don’t locate meaning so specifically in my head.”

The exhibits are on display at the ICA and the artist’s home until Sept. 1. Hewitt’s home and studio address is 1 S. Granby St., and visiting hours are 1-5 p.m.

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