At the ICA, ‘Home,’ the digital-hybrid kind, is where the art is -The Boston Globe

At the ICA, ‘Home,’ the digital-hybrid kind, is where the art is

A detail of “Hybrid-Digital Home,” by Saya Woolfalk and daughter Aya Woolfalk Mitchell
© SAYA WOOLFALK A detail of “Hybrid-Digital Home,” by Saya Woolfalk and daughter Aya Woolfalk Mitchell

Over school vacation week, many parents face the battle of getting the kids to put down the electronics, get out of the house, and do something educational. This spring break, a 6½-year-old may have the perfect compromise.

At the Institute of Contemporary Art, the Bank of America Art Lab space is being taken over by New York-based artist Saya Woolfalk and her daughter, Aya Woolfalk Mitchell,with an interactive installation celebrating multiculturalism and the creative power of computer coding.

“Hybrid-Digital Home” takes over the Art Lab space, the hybridity referring to the many different patterns sourced from other cultures to make the image of a home. The installation’s digital feature is an interactive media component, something that Gabrielle Wyrick, the associate director of education at the ICA, saw as a perfect fit for the Art Lab.

“The Bank of America Art Lab is an interactive studio space where visitors of all ages come and engage more deeply with the process of art making,” Wyrick said. “We really wanted to have an artist who could engage with some of the bigger themes within our art gallery spaces. We wanted an artist who could do that in a way that would resonate with . . . 5-year-olds to 95-year-olds.”

Making up the installation are three elements. Upon entering the space, Woolfalk’s image of a home is displayed on the left wall, as a large vinyl wrapping made from textile patterns from around the globe. On the back wall is a banner that was generated using her daughter’s drawings, patternized digitally using a coding software called Scratch. The right wall comes full circle, with a blank version of the vinyl patterned home, outlined in black, like a coloring-book page, that visitors can fill in with their own patterns during the duration of the installation through Sept. 2.

Meant to introduce kids to computer programming, Scratch was created by the Scratch Team at the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab. With a Scratch account, users can play with code building blocks to make animations, computer games, and more. In an after-school coding class for tots, Aya took to the program, inspiring the interactive side of the installation.

“I wanted my daughter to feel comfortable with the [coding] language,” Woolfalk recalled. “I signed her up for the class, and I wasn’t sure how she would take to it, but in her regular day school she writes stories and one day she came home with a story and it was all about coding and how she loved it and it was the highlight of her day. I thought: Wow, this is really incredible that this 6-year-old loves coding.’”

Wyrick and Woolfalk saw coding as the grounding element in the installation for the ICA, especially this spring. It ties in with current ICA exhibit “Art in the Age of the Internet” and the upcoming “We Wanted a Revolution” exhibit on June 27.

“[Wyrick] thought that I would be a perfect artist to bridge the themes of the two exhibitions,” Woolfalk said. “The first being about contemporary art and technology, and the second being about black feminist political thought, which deeply influences my practice as well.”

Aside from those influences, a main aspect of the installation is the collaboration with her daughter, something Woolfalk cherished but something that presented its own challenges.

“It can be difficult to collaborate with anyone at any age, because you have to negotiate each other’s ideas and perspectives in an attempt to come to a conclusion that works for both of you,” Woolfalk said. “That has been a wonderful experience of trying to take her ideas seriously, and I think that is part of why I like engaging her in these projects. I want her to feel empowered to have ideas and a voice and for her to know that something that starts small on a piece of paper can become a large-scale wall mural or an interactive work shown in a museum.”

That is just what happened, as her daughter’s work will be displayed large-scale at the ICA. Aya’s reaction? “It makes me happy and excited!”


At Institute of Contemporary Art, 25 Harbor Shore Drive, April 14-Sept. 2. 617-478-3100,

Sophie Cannon can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @the_grandCannon

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