Like so many places in Richmond, the history of Chimborazo Hill is complicated. It’s both the location of the largest Confederate military hospital during the Civil War and the site of a community for formerly enslaved African Americans following emancipation.
This year’s InLight, the annual two-night public exhibition of light-based art and performances organized by 1708 Gallery, takes place in Chimborazo and focuses on the park’s social and geographic history.
“We were inspired by the complex histories that have defined Chimborazo Park and were interested in commissioning artists to create works that directly consider this site,” says 1708 Gallery’s director, Emily Smith.
As a result, all curated and juried artists’ works consider the multiple narratives of the hilltop location. In addition to many Richmond-based artists, InLight 2019 includes artists from Detroit, New Orleans, New York and Philadelphia. As with past years, the event kicks off with a community lantern parade in which everyone is invited to participate. Ten local food vendors as well as a beer sponsor will be on hand to fuel the evening.
To multimedia artist Eva Rocha, Chimborazo Hospital was a place built to treat victims of a war that left a scar on the country’s collective unconsciousness. After the war, it became a camp for homeless freed slaves trying to build new lives, essentially a place for refugees seeking asylum.
“Chimborazo was and is a place where many layers of history took place,” she says. “I think of history as a living organism with its own scars. I like to think those scars can be healed collectively.”
She dubbed her submission, “Cot: Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands.” For Rocha, for whom English is a second language, the sound of the word cot resembled the word caught. But she also saw a cot as a metaphorical object because of its extensive use in war zones, in hospitals during wartime, in prisons, in concentration camps, in refugee camps and in very poor homes.
“My goal with this work is to layer, to call attention to the relationship between different forms of constrictions and sufferings and how they affect us all collectively,” she says. “My goal is to offer this work as a place to heal historical wounds by considering the complex human suffering of this site. I propose a collective healing.”
Not surprisingly, the audience for InLight has grown every year, a fact that heartens the organizers. But Smith also points out that 1708 Gallery has gotten better about working directly with artists to develop projects that first and foremost directly engage the site. By doing so, it facilitates an exhibition that feels timely and relevant.
“I’m also proud that through the continued support of our partners, we’ve been able to provide increasingly greater resources to our artists,” she says. “More money, more production assistance and more opportunities to build community.”
Artist Logan Dandridge works in film and video, primarily multichannel video installations. This is the Hanover County native’s second year showing work at InLight and he acknowledges that Chimborazo and similar historic landmarks are vital to his work.
“Certain themes like identity, history and spirituality were formative to the work,” he says of this year’s installation, “The Sound Is the Picture,” which he considers a synthesis of those themes through the poetics and aesthetics of experimental cinema. “The film is entrenched in cultural critique and addressing the legacy of the Confederacy.”
While you’re exploring InLight, look for the signs that offer information about each project and remember: There is no single path to explore. The organizers suggest visitors use the maps provided or ask a volunteer to make sure that they see everything. For those worrying about the ease of parking, the simplest solution is to park at Stone Brewing and take the free shuttle to Chimborazo. And although InLight is free, donations are welcome and there will be volunteers with buckets as well as the option of donating via text.
Smith says the gallery has known from the first year that the accessibility of InLight is a gateway for many people to connect with contemporary art and, more importantly, to connect with the compelling stories that inform different parts of the community.
“By pushing the exhibition to be as site-specific as possible, we’re doing more to make these connections for our audiences.”
And that means all audiences, so selfie moments will be built into this year’s event.
Artist Jonathan Rosen’s large format mirror with the words “Shine Like” written on it is an Instagram post waiting to happen.
Because as we all know, if there’s no picture, you weren’t really at InLight 2019.
InLight will be held on Friday, Nov. 15, and Saturday, Nov. 16, from 7 - 11 p.m. at Chimborazo Park, 3215 E. Broad St. Free.