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The ‘wonder’ of it all

By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

Wonderspaces’ interactive pop-up art in Civita Park

[Editor’s note: This is the second story in a two-part series on Wonderspaces. Read part one at bit.ly/2sQ821i.]

“Wonderspaces: A Pop-Up Arts Celebration,” the brainchild of former Marines Jason Shin and Patrick Charles, opened June 2, and it indeed displays some wonders to behold — and to engage.

Located in a large-scale tent in an undeveloped portion of Mission Valley’s new Civita Park, the exhibit is entered through David McCarty’s Plexiglas sculpture, “Pulse Portal.” The portal was previously displayed at Burning Man 2016, which, in part, inspired Shin and Charles’ vision of Wonderspaces as an easily accessible and affordable arts experience.

Nicholas Patton playing with the musical art installation titled “On a Human Scale” by Matthew Matthew (Photo by Kit-Bacon Gressitt)

Inside the tent, 16 interactive installations grab the attention of adults and children alike, including the exhibit’s neighbors.

Jacqueline Lane was taking a walk one Friday, noticed the portal, and ended up with a job at Wonderspaces.

“I was very drawn to the sculpture out front,” she said. “Long story short, Patrick was here. He told us about it, and I said, ‘Wow, you must need a little help. Are you hiring?’ That was a Friday evening, I had an interview Sunday at 9 a.m. and that was it. It’s great to be part of the arts community in San Diego. I’m a big fan of installation art and collaborative art, so this is fun for me, to help guide people to experience it.”

And there is a lot to experience. Walk through the doors and music draws you to a room that houses “On a Human Scale” by Matthew Matthew. There, the viewer is welcomed by three walls of human faces on video screens.

Matthew described the piece as a “fully playable instrument of humanity.” And that’s just what it is. The artist videotaped New Yorkers singing and then edited their music to individual notes. The singers’ images respond to a keyboard available for viewers to play. Strike a chord — or a cantata — and the New Yorkers sing for you.

Neil Choate engages with “ADA” by Karina Smigla-Bobinski (Photos by Kit-Bacon Gressitt)

“This is really cool. I like it. It’s interactive,” said exhibit visitor Nicholas Patton while tickling the ivories. “It makes you want everyone to have a voice. It’s visual and kinetic. You can see a lot of diversity, like the kids, cultural diversity, in the pictures. It looks like they’re in the same city, but it definitely looks like each of them has a different, unique perspective. I think it’s awesome. It’s engaging, for sure.”

From there, wander into the main reception area, and you’ll see people gathered around several installations, including a framed work entitled “Not Myself Today.” Comprising a tidy arrangement of color-coded buttons expressing emotions, the piece represents an initiative by Canadian nonprofit Partners for Mental Health. The agency’s goal is to “transform the way we think about, act towards and support mental health and people with mental illness.”

The piece encourages viewers to select pins that represent how they are feeling, leaving negative spaces on the white background and adding to the texture of the installation — and, perhaps, its message, enhanced by viewers’ moods.

“Come Together” by Michael Murphy at first appears abstract but the reveals at the right angle.

You might then hear some soft pounding from around the corner. Follow the sound and you’ll find “ADA,” an “analog interactive installation” by Karina Smigla-Bobinski, a German-Polish artist. “ADA” is a large, clear globe filled with helium and spiked with drawing charcoal. As viewers bounce the globe around the white room, it draws on every surface. Although plenty of adults take turns, “ADA” is a particular favorite among youngsters, one of whom, Neil Choate, was particularly inspired by the piece.

“It’s interesting,” Choate said. “It’s something very unique. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s really fun, too! At my school we play wallball, but the balls don’t float. I definitely want one of these in my room.”

Choate also enjoyed “Sweet Spot,” a motionless installation piece of 3,700 colored nylon chords by Shawn Causey and Mark Daniell.

“You walk back and forth,” Choate said, “and it looks like it kind of moves. And the fist, in the corner, that’s pretty cool.”

The fist, or “Come Together” by Michael Murphy, is what the artist calls a “perceptual shift” sculpture. Stand in the right spot, and the piece shifts from an abstract collection of suspended cylinders to a fist.

“Art’s appealing to me,” Choate said, “but we don’t study it in school. In my mind, art always seemed like a painting, but not this kind of stuff. It’s pretty cool. It’s beyond just a painting.”

After its debut in San Diego, Wonderspaces will go on the road with shows is Austin, Texas; Phoenix, Arizona; and Denver, Colorado.

—Kit-Bacon Gressitt writes commentary and essays on her blog Excuse Me, I’m Writing, is a founding editor of WritersResist.com, and has been published by Missing Slate, Ms. Magazine blog and Trivia: Voices of Feminism, among others. She formerly wrote for the North County Times. She also hosts Fallbrook Library’s monthly Writers Read authors series and open mic, and can be reached at kbgressitt@gmail.com.

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