Dan Gioia is a man of steel. His interactive sculptural works include “Sphere,” a giant, spinnable ball of sod, suspended in a steel contraption. It’s on display at the Conner Contemporary Art Gallery as part of ACADEMY 2011, the 11th annual invitation survey of outstanding work by area MFA/BFA students. (Gioia graduated from the Maryland Institute College of Art with a BFA in interdisciplinary sculpture.)

When you make art that’s intended to be interactive and people just walk by it, does it irritate you?
Well, a lot of people interpret art differently. I made a piece in the fall that people found really intimidating. But the sphere is something they want to interact with.

Which piece scared them off?
It was the breathing machine. It was a wind-powered machine with bellows on each side that made [people who put their mouths on its tubes] breathe in and out. It wasn’t up to the viewer when to breathe. People said it was a combination of a torture device and playground equipment.

How important is location?
Site-specificity is really important. I had wanted to place the sphere in a large grassy plaza at MICA, but it ended up surrounded by concrete. But putting a sculpture like that in a place starved for greenery really helped people interact with it.

Does the scale of your work encourage people to interact with it?
Absolutely. Steel can be so intimidating, but the sphere looks sturdy. You can do what you want to it. You can kick it. There’s a comfort in that.

Do you have family and friends that just wish you painted sunsets or something more typical?
Oh, yeah. My mom. Don’t get me wrong: She loves my work, but I feel like she would be just as happy with the paintings I made as a freshman.

» Conner Contemporary Art, 1358 Florida Ave. NE; through Aug. 22, free; 202-588-8750; Connercontemporary.com.

Photo courtesy Conner Contemporary Art