No two visits to “Free Space,” an interactive art exhibit at Silver Spring’s Betty Mae Kramer Gallery, are the same.
Each time a visitor walks into the eight-year-old gallery and looks at a piece like “MixMatchV3” by artist Jackie Hoystead, it is unlikely that the 780 acrylic discs velcroed to four different 4-foot-by-40-inch PVC panels will remain unchanged.
The constant transformation is not due to Hoystead being a finicky perfectionist constantly changing her work, but rather to the audience. She invites the viewers to alter the piece according to their own whims, to create their own patterns and designs.
“I think people don’t spend a lot of time looking at artwork anymore,” said Hoystead. “They come into an exhibition, and they think it’s daunting. But by integrating the audience into your work, they spend more time with it. They think about it, and they have a say in the artwork.”
“Sometimes I don’t like what the audience does, but I have to let go. Nothing has happened where I said I really don’t like it, I’ve seen some of my work mistreated, so I have to make work that can handle some amount of manhandling,” said Hoystead. “You can hear from my voice [that] I do have a hard time letting go, but it’s part of the process; it’s a learning experience for me.”
The exhibition comprises works by two Bethesda-based artists, Hoystead and Akemi Maegawa. Maegawa’s piece “Interactive Mosiac Drawing” is interactive, but in a much different way than Hoystead’s. Instead of asking people to edit her own art, she invites people to create entirely new works.
Maegawa laid out several tables with colored ceramic blocks so the audience can develop mosaics from scratch. On the walls of the gallery are two complete mosaics of her own work created with the blocks. The two – one letter to friends, the other a picture of Maegawa’s pet hedgehog – help show people the potential of the form. After the audience viewed Maegawa’s completed mosaics, she broke them up and put the blocks back on the table, for others to use.
“At the beginning I felt kind of sad that I wouldn’t be able to keep (the letter) or make it permanent, but once I broke the piece I made and put it back, it just made me more free,” said Maegawa. “I already know what I did so I don’t need to have it. It’s a strange satisfaction it’s not about having or owning anything, it’s about that memory. It’s about that feeling that I had. It was nice to be able to let go.”
According to curator Amina Cooper, the Betty Mae Kramer Gallery is the only gallery entirely dedicated to Montgomery County-based artists. She said the interactive element of the exhibition has gotten people who do not seem like art lovers invested in creating their own patterns and designs.
“It reminds me of Zen gardens, where you can be in a space where you’re meditative and contemplative,” said Cooper. “That’s what I hope this space can be for visitors. All this work, if you become really engaged with it, you’re focusing on something else; you’re getting a little relief from your day.”