Chairs were scarce one recent Sunday at the District of Columbia Arts Center, where patrons had gathered for a gallery talk about the exhibition “On Our Turf.” Waiting for things to get under way, they chatted, considering the offerings in the group show. There were photographs by Juliane Min, multimedia sculptures by Rex Weil, and a mock-landscape installation by the artists’ collective Team Response: tree stumps built of corrugated cardboard, Bristol-board clouds hanging from the ceiling, construction-paper flowers, and a lawn of green AstroTurf.

As their feet grew tired, guests seemed to ponder whether to take seats upon the tree stumps: Art should be seen, not sat on, right? But eventually, the comfort impulse trumped art-show etiquette, and the guests sat one by one amid the installation—exactly as the Team Response artists had planned.

Team Response is Jason Balicki, 26, Justin Barrows, 27, and Matthew Sutton, 23, all recent graduates of the Corcoran College of Art and Design. Whereas many artists traffic in do-not-touch creations, this collective wants people to reach out and touch what it produces. In fact, its members see the human reaction to their installations as part of the art.

“People are apprehensive; they don’t want to get too close” to most art, says Sutton. “There’s a big social dynamic involved.” But the same dynamic holds when patrons are given a chance to interact with an artwork, Team Response believes: “People watch the others, see what they’re going to do, and then usually they choose to go with it.”

Balicki, Barrows, and Sutton began collaborating informally in 2001, after deciding to rip out the walls of their student studios to facilitate conversation. Discovering that they were constantly trading input about each other’s work, they formed the collective WE during the same year and in 2002 began working on their senior thesis as a trio—a first for the school. “A thesis show is supposed to be a grand opus for the individual artist,” says Barrows. “So three people working together was a bit unorthodox.”

The group members did submit individual projects, but their main offering was a sculpture made of 4,500 paper airplanes, which attendees, without provocation, began throwing around the space. “Individuals took the initiative to redistribute the sculpture, which made it more of an installation,” Sutton recalls.

After graduation, the three decided to stay in Washington to work together, and they changed the collective’s name to Team Response. “On Our Turf” is the second exhibition they’ve participated in since graduation; their contribution is Clear Cut, A Fresh Start, which considers the look of a housing-development landscape between the felling of trees and the raising of construction. To build it, the team all but gutted the DCAC space and reshaped it to their liking.

“When they’re assembling things, they’re very goal-directed,” says George Washington University Adjunct Professor Jamie Smith, who curated the show. “They’re like carpenters doing work, but there is a lot of development and brainstorming beforehand.” To Team Response, the collective effort means not just more ideas but more hands to work on the group’s large installations. “Combining forces makes us a lot stronger politically and physically—we can lift a lot more,” says Barrows.

When they’re not creating art in their Brookland studio, the three work as art handlers, packaging and transporting valuable pieces—often to New York, so they often have a chance to prowl Chelsea galleries once their business is done. The job keeps them in constant contact with impressive artwork, but the guys say that driving trucks, building crates, and eating breakfast at Texaco have been their greatest creative influences. In their next project, they plan to contemplate fast-food restaurants and the trash they create.

“Our day-to-day experiences feel more relevant to the work,” says Sutton. “We’re not just making art about art.”

“We have regular lives with 9-to-5 jobs—[the art] keeps our brains occupied,” says Barrows.

“And,” says Sutton, “it keeps us out of juvie.” —Sarah Godfrey

“On Our Turf” is on view to Sunday, May 18, at the District of Columbia Arts Center, 2438 18th St. NW. For more information, call (202) 462-7833.