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Space to Maneuver

by Caity Ross

Upon entering the Space to Maneuver exhibit at the New Britain Art Museum, free with your Blue Chip card, you may be hesitant to touch the first piece you see.

Looking around for a no-touching sign for the third time you finally reach and give the Spin Cycle a gentle spin.

The eight, colored planks of wood in a snowflake-like shape that made up the Spin Cycle, rotated slowly around, a different colored circle could be seen behind cut outs in the colored planks. You feel like a Wheel of Fortune contestant and in your head you can hear that annoying game show music.

You look around after it stopped spinning to make sure no flashlight shaking security guards had heard the movement and, at the lack of a stern talking-to, you smile, reach your hand out and spin it again, harder this time. The anxiety is gone, this exhibit is unlike any other museum exhibit you have encountered — this one allows touching the art, full-on interaction with the piece. With the anxiety gone, you can finally explore Space to Maneuver by Bob Gregson.

Bob Gregson designs his pieces to be alive to the viewer.

“I feel that everyone brings their own experiences when they encounter a work of art. Some people like colorful shapes, some people like muted tones, some people like narrative art with realistic imagery, some people like abstract shapes, and that goes on and on,” Gregson explained.

“What you like is probably already inside you. It’s the artist who gives it form and brings it out -in my work I invite people to bring their experiences in a more active manner,” said Gregson.

Gregson designs his pieces to be theatrical props for viewers to use and create the experience that is his work.

“I want the visitor to first be intrigued and curious. Next, I want people to explore, when people become confident — then they can add their own ideas,” said Gregson.

The exhibit uses hanging pieces like the Spin Cycle, 2014, and The Bee Line, 201 — both solid colored wood pieces hung along the walls on the second floor of the New Britain Museum of American Art,  able to spin and change position on their mounts by viewers’ own hands.

There is a cluster of tables in the center of the room, making up what Bob Gregson has called the At Every Turn, 2009 piece. This piece is designed to become a game for a group.

“My art invites people to play together. In our world of i-phones, skype, twitter, e-mail, etc.,we have less and less physical interaction with people,” Gregson said hoping his work would draw complete strangers to play together. He wants viewers to change social rules through his pieces by taking the rules into their own hands.

“This exhibit is fun and interactive and completely against the norm of a museum,” Heather Whitehouse said with a toothy smile as she touched one of the pieces of the Slate Series 5: Snafu, hanging on the gallery wall.

As the Associate Curator of Education at the museum, Whitehouse has seen many pieces line the gallery walls.

“I love that I can come in here and venture through the exhibit one day and take away a different meaning the next time I come,” Whitehouse said, taking a turn at making a sentence with the tables of the At Every Turn piece.

“Our visitors have the ability to come into the exhibit and change it themselves, set it up in a way that is appealing to them,” said Whitehouse.

The Space to Maneuver exhibit is a playful, thought-provoking and constantly changing exhibition that creates a physical relationship between the viewer and the art. This type of physical relation requires a lot of work and maintaining to keep up with.

“The artist planned out the way he wanted his pieces set up, he explained how he wanted them hung and explained the importance of them being able to withstand touching and moving,” Keith Gervase, Assistant to the Collection’s Manager/Rights & Reproduction explained.

Keith and his team are in charge of installation of exhibits and pieces in the museum. They had to install several bases able to rotate and hold the solid wood pieces and withstand the human touch.

The Space to Maneuver exhibit holds just a few of Bob Gregson’s pieces. The New Britain Museum of American Art houses several other pieces, including several pieces from the In Your Face participatory mask collection. It also includes a Bickering Booth in the lobby where two participants enter either side of the booth, face to face. Each side contains Rolodex file with approximately 300 theatrical clichés inspired from soap operas and movies.

Space to Maneuver brings a new interactive element to the museum experience and is definitely worth a visit.