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As Eric Symons and Vanessa Kamp ready their exhibition space for its First Friday unveiling, a small amount of anxiety creeps in. Will the art lovers of R Street NW find time to peer in? Is there enough room inside? And, most important: “We are sure that the back of the truck is closed, right?”
Kamp utters this last concern as she sits behind the wheel of the $30-a-day U-Haul, which is barreling down 16th Street toward its uninvited Oct. 4 grand opening as the guerrilla gallery Na Yoko Ra Ra.
“We’re just going to be a part of what’s happening, and not necessarily in an overtly intrusive way,” explains the 33-year-old Silver Spring resident. “You get noticed, but it’s not just completely self-serving. It’s like you intentionally present an anomaly, and you let people experience that.”
“I’m a little worried about the gallery owners,” adds Symons, 28, a Pennsylvania-based artist and the co-founder of Na Yoko Ra Ra. “We’re not trying to be rude or threatening. I’m just hoping that people will be curious and come in.”
After jockeying for parking with aggressive rush-hour drivers, Kamp and Symons climb in the back of the U-Haul to prepare their installations before the gallery-walkers converge. Kamp bungee-cords blurred digital images of her face morphed with her cat’s to the wall as Symons fastens together a snaking line of surge protectors with double-sided tape. He hasn’t been able to pretest his installation of motion-detecting Starbucks cups that light up to reveal interior scenes, but everything appears to be in working order.
The first gallerygoer that Kamp offers a Na Yoko Ra Ra postcard to scoffs—”I think it’s really…exciting”—before ripping the card in half. But her reaction proves to be the exception. For the next two hours, long lines of curious and enthusiastic pedestrians walk one by one up the long metal ramp attached to the truck’s back bumper and browse the gallery’s contents.
“I think it’s so much fun—it’s creativity with minimal materials,” says Capitol Hill resident Angela Blocker, after descending from Na Yoko Ra Ra. “I guess I wasn’t expecting a truck. I thought this was them moving.”
Most members of the R Street establishment are equally effusive in praising the artists’ ingenuity. Anton Gallery owner Gail Enns even makes the collegial gesture of presenting Kamp and Symons with a bottle of bubbly cider.
Lana Lyons, director of Studio Gallery, argues that Na Yoko Ra Ra is what the monthly First Friday event should be about. “It’s ingenious,” she says. “Why not bring your art where the people are? That’s why we’re all together doing this, because we figure if all the galleries are open, people will come and they’ll go from gallery to gallery. So why not just have another gallery?”
If they can find a parking space next month, Kamp and Symons plan to do just that, with exhibitions of works by other artists, experiments with sound installations, and even performance-art pieces with multiple trucks. “Things are so conservative now,” Kamp says. “When people see something like this in the street, they think it’s such a novelty. But people who are really interested in looking at art did that. I don’t think the truck was a hindrance to that at all.” —Josh Levin