Adrian Molina’s art is not made to be just looked at.
The centerpiece of his first solo exhibit, which opens tonight at Yes.Oui.Si gallery in the Fenway, is a 210-foot scroll that requires two people for a proper viewing. One must crank the wooden spool. The other feeds the paper into the machine that Molina built.
The piece is called “Emittime’’ and it is meant to operate on at least two levels. As the scroll runs by, scenes that Molinda has painted take you through an empty field, into a crowded city, even into space. You keep cranking to continue on this ink-splattered adventure. Time passes on the scroll. Time also passes in the life of the viewer of the scroll.
“If this is a narrative of time, you’re also experiencing time,’’ says Molina.
This is the first solo show for Molina, 28, a graduate of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts and one of the founders of Yes.Oui.Si. Since opening last winter, the 1,200-square-foot space on Vancouver Street has become popular largely with an audience younger than that of the typical gallerygoer. There’s art, film, music and, on Tuesday nights, a yoga class.
Admirers of the gallery aren’t limited to the college crowd. The late, great scenester Billy Ruane helped arrange for a grant for Yes.Oui.Si not long before his death. And one of Molina’s biggest fans happens to be Doris Yaffe, the 82-year-old style maven who bought one of his three-dimensional pieces earlier this year. “It’s my favorite piece of art,’’ she raves.
Molina’s work includes these three-dimensional pieces, in which he creates portraits with expanding foam, paints, and resin to create a special texture. In a self-portrait in the show, the added dimension creates the illusion that the artist’s gaze is changing depending on where you are standing in the room.
He is also showing - and selling - moody, rectangular-shaped ink drawings he created almost as test sections of the scroll.
But “Emittime’’ is his most impressive work. At the gallery, it has been hailed as “the longest painting in Boston.’’ It may be. Kay Rosen’s “Manana Man,’’ for example, in the Museum of Fine Arts’ new Linde Family Wing for Contemporary Art, might be taller than “Emittime,’’ but it is only 120 feet long.
There is an 800-foot-long “Moving Panorama of Pilgrim’s Progress,’’ at the Saco Museum in Maine and a 273-foot-long work at Brown University.
Olivia Ives-Flores, one of the gallery’s founders and its curator, admits the talk of “Emittime’s’’ size isn’t based on any scientific survey of local artworks. She also said it wouldn’t matter much if there were a bigger piece somewhere.
“It’s really long regardless,’’ she says.
Molina studied painting and also sculpture fabrication. It is the latter that allows him to bring his art to life, he says. An earlier version of “Emittime,’’ which he showed in a recent visit to Yes.Oui.Si, features a small motor. But for the larger piece, which took him about a year to create, he prefers to keep things manual.
That’s how he wants to alter the visitor experience. He wants people to do more than stare at a picture.
“You get to a museum and you typically see a painting framed as a wall,’’ he said. “How connected are you expected to be?’’
To create “Emittime,’’ Molina bought rolls of paper and attached them with glue to stretch out to 70 yards. It looks similar to the scroll Jack Kerouac created to punch out “On the Road’’ a half century ago. The stand and spools, made of wood, bring to mind Rube Goldberg.
“Everything he makes doesn’t look sturdy, but it is,’’ said Ives-Flores. “There’s a kind of mechanical teetering. It’s about the interactiveness, the action of viewing. And that’s what actives his artwork.’’
What activates Molina, who has a beard and handlebar mustache and worked last week to install his show in paint-splattered clothes, is the idea that he is not restrained by his medium. He also says he never intended to make the longest painting in Boston and admits he isn’t sure if it is.
If another museum or gallery has a longer painting, he says, “they should show it. That’d be awesome.’’