Sunday, November 18, 2018

Leave a Light On

There are multiple reasons to attend InLight, but overhearing strangers is surely one of them.

I'm liking Fresh Market these days, how about you?

Yea, Richmond the past two weeks reminds me of Blacksburg...

You don't have to read the sign, just look at it and come on.

It's a million hours past your bedtime, so we have to go.

I've gone on record as saying that I don't think the VMFA is as well suited to InLight as neighborhood locations, but no one listens to me. So here we - that's the thousands of us who traipsed through - were, back at a confined location being herded along paths to see light installations blocked by hordes of people.

Just an observation from the cheap seats.

My favorite piece revealed itself on the way in with Sarah Choo Jing's "Art of the Rehearsal," a massive projection on the side of the museum. My immediate reaction was one of familiarity - the two-story streetscape allowed views inside individual apartments where each tenant danced a different kind of dance to the same music - because I was reminded of "Rear Window" and the views afforded to wheelchair-bound Jimmy Stewart.

But unlike his bird's eye view of Miss Lonely Hearts, a composer and a murderer, I had a view of a salsa dancer on the roof, a ballerina in the kitchen, a Middle Eastern dancer in the hallway and myriad others going through their individual rehearsals, each framed by their space.

I don't know which I was more into, the choreography or the voyeuristic elements of of the elaborate scene. I do know I found it captivating to watch as the empty windows, balconies and patios became the setting for multiple dances before they retreated to their apartments again out of sight. I don't know about others, but I stood and watched it through many times so I could focus on a different dancer every time.

A man with a thick Spanish accent asked someone if the dancers were real and a passerby responded politely, "I think it's projections coming from these boxes." Knowing nods followed.

And while she wasn't technically part of InLight, Chloe, the 24'-high resin head of a woman, was every bit as striking as the light installations. Viewed against a deepening gray-blue sky, a tree with half its leaves still hanging on providing the backdrop, Chloe caught every bit of available light and glowed like the moon with its whiteness.

I'd have lingered there even longer than I did except that people kept posing groups in front of it for photo ops. Meanwhile, I had to accept that not everyone wanted to actually take in the art when it was so much easier to just snap a picture and move on.

I was bent over, reading a sign about Bob Kaputof's "Oasis in the Night Sky" when a woman asked if she could butt in front of me to take a picture of the sign in front of me. Without so much as looking up, I shook my head no and continued reading.

Sorry, honey, real time life trumps virtual documentation every time, at least for now. Yes, I have my concerns about the future.

Approaching the former Confederate Home for Women (now the Pauley Center), I heard a young guy exclaim, "Look, it's Chiocca's!" in reference to all the neon signs: a hand pointing downstairs, a crescent moon, an "open" sign and another that said "Butter" in yellow lights, among others. The Theremin Collection's "Hidden in Plain Sight" celebrated they neon heyday of the 1920s.

One of the best views I saw was accidental, coming when I reached the top of the hill and looked back toward the many lighted windows of the museum, the Chihuly red reeds and the endless stream of people making their way around the grounds. I'm telling you, Richmond Tourism could use that picaresque image to entice people to visit such a cool city.

Mart Finkelstein's "Echoes in Motion" was like a beacon from the sculpture garden's highest level, except that long before I'd arrived, it had become Selfie Central, so it was impossible to fully see the back-lit series of black, white and colored panels, some still and others undulating organically like microbes reproducing, for all the photo shoots and re-takes ("I look awful, take it again!").

Darkness is a big part of why InLight works, but the slate steps leading down the hill were clogged with people going in both directions, so it was inevitable there'd be traffic jams as the steps receded into the darkness.

I overheard a woman complain that she couldn't see where she was going (though she was also on the incorrect side of the staircase to go up) and then gulp, "Oops!" loudly. She'd landed on one of the stones to the side of the steps and something had toppled in the process. "It's just an orange cone," her companion said reassuringly. "I'll put it back!"

Surely one of the most lovely and unusual installations was Leila Ehteshaim and Carl Patow's "River City Reflections," a reflecting pool filled with small glass jars with lights in them. At the top of the hill, a person would write down their wish for Richmond, seal it in the jar and send it cascading down the water-covered steps to the pool to join the undulating mass of jars floating on the water's surface.

"I think Mayor Stoney should have to pull one of these out of the water and make it come true," a woman in a blue hat announced.

"What if it's for something like making unicorns real?" a stranger challenged her back. "Well, it has to be in his sphere," the first insisted, while several people chimed in, saying the best thing that could happen would be for us to become one city, black and white, rich and poor.

If only.

Because I'd waited to go to InLight until the last couple hours before it closed, the crowds had thinned a tad by the time I made my way back for one final visit to the dancers of "Art of the Rehearsal," where I was every bit as enchanted as the first time.

So the VMFA isn't my first choice for InLight. You don't see that stopping me from attending, do you? I was at the first one eleven years ago and, barring being in another country, I'll be at future events. There will be no photos to prove it, but trust me on this.

Because if I don't go, there won't be a single person there not taking photographs and that's just wrong. Somebody besides Chloe's gotta represent the Luddites, experiencing it all IRL, not virtually later.

At you service, InLight.

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