Among galleries filled with immersive sound, dazzling lights and video powered by a spaghetti of wires and super-sophisticated technology, it was a simple voice on a phone in one exhibit that stirred Hunter Inman’s emotions.
In the final preparations for the permanent exhibit space Hopscotch in San Antonio, open to the public Oct. 2, Inman listened in on some early submissions to "Secrets," an installation by San Antonio-based Wide Awake Creative, which encourages participants to share secrets by phone. The secrets are churned through a database and anonymously shared with Hopscotch visitors, who hear them over phones.
"There was a teacher, and she was talking about how she cries every day — literally every day in the shower — because she doesn’t want to go to work. She’s just unhappy," says Inman, co-founder of Hopscotch, taking a long pause. "I get a little choked up, I’m sorry. That level of unhappiness is just so widespread right now."
Though bearing witness to people’s pain — particularly during a global pandemic — can feel heavy, he hopes his newest project will also bring a lot of joy.
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"Secrets" is one of 14 interactive, technology-rich art installations premiering in the new permanent museum space in downtown San Antonio. Inman and co-founder Nicole Jensen (founder of Austin Tour Co.) previously created a pop-up Hopscotch in Austin last year on a smaller scale to gauge interest in experiential art spaces. (Los Angeles-based Wonderspaces has since opened an outpost in Austin, offering a similar immersive art experience).
"We’ve fallen in love with San Antonio and the arts community," says Inman, who is based in Austin and expects to do future installations here as well. "There’s so much talent in Austin and San Antonio."
Hopscotch was created by gutting the 1970s-era office space in the Travis Park Plaza Building on Navarro Street to make the gallery space. More than 40 local and international artists are represented. Artwork will rotate periodically, allowing visitors to experience something new when they return. The exhibits are appropriate for all ages.
Exhibits aren’t thematic or cohesive, but they do typically share an interactive component that invites visitors to engage with the artwork. For example, there are several exhibits in which the visitor’s image is digitally projected or manipulated on a giant screen — in one of them you can even dance with dozens of versions of yourself. In another installation, visitors can graffiti designs onto walls using laser-projected spray paint cans.
"It’s about changing your perception — that’s kind of our whole vibe," said Jensen after peering through a series of "Infinity Boxes" from artist Matt Elson, which replicate, slice and dice the viewer’s image and gaze and even map one person’s face onto the face of another, blurring the lines of identity. "I hope that when you’re in here, you kind of forget everything."
In New York artist Basia Goszczynska’s "Rainbow Cave," 40,000 plastic bags (the same number that are thrown away every2 1/2 minutes in Texas) are scrunched onto every surface to create an otherworldly white "cave" environment, lit with colored gel lights, that feels peaceful and calming.
Austin-based landscape architect Cameron Campbell collaborated with a group for "Lightlines," an earlier iteration of which they displayed outdoors at Waller Creek. Upon entering a pitch-black room, visitors see a disorienting forest of electroluminescent wires pulsing with red lights, which change based on the immersive music and movement of people through the space.
"It really kind of rocks your core in terms of movement and your sense of space and time," said Campbell. "When you see it operating, it’s a very powerful thing. It kind of speaks to the idea that we’re bombarded with technology, and we live in this very digital world, and it’s a crazy, fast-paced moving world, but the way we put together the technology gives order to it."
Currently, artwork has been curated with COVID-19 in mind. The entire space has been designed with special air decontamination systems, limited touch points, required temperature checks and masks for visitors and employees, as well as hand sanitizer stations throughout. Advance timed tickets are required for admission, and Inman said they are restricting capacity to well below 25%.
The Hopscotch mantra is "experiences over things" — a message he believes will resonate with audiences in the "experience economy," as festivals, restaurants and stores work to create more experiences, aided by the evolution of social media.
"There’s a huge enthusiasm to create something new," he said. "A lot of these artists haven’t had the opportunity to kind of go for it and create something that only lives in their mind. When we curate, our primary focus is on creating great in-person experiences that are powerful and engaging."
In addition to art exhibits, visitors can also visit the sunlit-drenched bar on-site offering Texas spirit-focused cocktails and a monthly featured mocktail, in addition to other beverages. The food truck Smack’s Chicken Shack will offer a #LetsHopscotch sandwich: a combination of fried chicken, powdered sugar, honey butter and doughnuts, exclusively served at the museum’s patio.