Confederate Chapel to Get Trippy Makeover During InLight

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The Confederate Memorial Chapel near VMFA was built in 1887 by Confederate veterans.
  • The Confederate Memorial Chapel near VMFA was built in 1887 by Confederate veterans.

The annual InLight Richmond will transform the grounds of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts next weekend. But perhaps the most electrifying reveal will be the wholesale transformation of the Confederate Memorial Chapel.

The light and sound installation, happening Nov. 13 and 14, promises to put a twist on one of Richmond’s most divisive public-relations problems.

The artists behind the exhibit, John Dombroski and Ander Mikalson, say they were inspired to probe the chapel’s socio-political significance.

The contentious building, which has a side adjacent to Grove Avenue, has been a magnet for people devoted to waving the Confederate flag — which no longer is allowed to fly at the chapel. In June, the museum took control of the chapel’s lease from the Lee-Jackson Camp No. 1, Sons of Confederate Veterans.

It will become a focal point of InLight, with the artists planning to turn the memorial into a trippy funhouse full of disorienting light, sound and shadow.

“By illuminating and amplifying the building and visitors’ presence within it,” Dombroski tells Style, “we will create a heightened sensory experience that invites investigation and introspection.”

The artists plan to install several cinema-grade lights on tall stands to illuminate the exterior of the chapel. The interior will be illuminated solely by the light cast through the stained-glass windows. An array of shadows will form on the ceiling, walls and floor.

There’s a sound component, too. The movements of visitors will be captured by a network of microphones installed on the floorboards, pews, doorways and walls — sounds the artists will amplify and reverberate throughout the space using delays and panning.

Dombroski says the sound of a visitor’s step will be emitted seconds later by a speaker behind the pulpit. Visitors’ shadows will dance around the pews.

“All art work has the potential to be political, even if it’s Disney-like,” says InLight juror Alex Baker, director of Fleisher/Ollman Gallery in Philadelphia.

“It’s more than just spectacle, it’s something to engage with,” says Emily Smith, executive director of 1708 Gallery, which organizes the event.

Some readers leaving comments weren’t about to embrace the idea. “How sad. This is a chapel and not a theater,” one wrote. “Where is the reverence that is befitting the place where Confederate veterans worshipped?”

Another commenter, saying they were no fan of the Confederate flag, wrote: “I assume that next on the agenda is doing something similar to a Muslim house of worship?”

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