Skies Painted with Unnumbered Sparks

Submitted by Janet Echelman

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Client

Location: Vancouver, BC, Canada

Completion date: Jan 01, 2014

Project Team

Artist

Janet Echelman

Studio Echelman

Artist

Aaron Koblin

Overview

Studio Echelman installed its largest, most interactive sculpture installation to date at the TED Conference’s 30th anniversary. The monumental aerial sculpture spanned 745 feet between a 24-story building and the Vancouver Convention Center, challenging the artist to work on her most ambitious scale yet – over twice the size of her largest previous sculpture.

In the daytime, the sculpture’s delicate yet monumental form is subtle, blending in with clouds and sky. A complex matrix of 860,000 hand and machine-made knots and 145 miles of braided fiber weighing nearly 3,500 pounds span 745 feet to make up Skies Painted with Unnumbered Sparks.

Goals

The sculpture was designed to premiere at the 2014 TED Conference, but was open and accessible to both conference attendees and the public. The project embodies the infusion of art and technology, as both continuously evolve together. “I want people to feel protected, yet linked to open sky,” says Echelman. “I hope that visitors feel more connected to those around them – to neighbors and strangers.”

Made entirely of soft fibers, the sculpture can attach directly into existing city architecture. To support the artwork across such a large span, Echelman utilized Honeywell Spectra fiber, a lightweight, durable material 15 times stronger than steel by weight. It is designed to travel to cities around the globe after the 2014 TED Conference exhibition as an “idea worth spreading.”

Process

The sculpture was presented with an original, interactive work created in collaboration with artist Aaron Koblin, Creative Director of the Data Arts Team in Google’s Creative Lab. At night the sculpture came to life as visitors were able to choreograph the lighting in real time using physical gestures on their mobile devices. Vivid beams of light were projected across a massive scale as the result of small movements on spectators’ phones.

In order to achieve such scale and complexity, Echelman turned to Autodesk, a leader in 3D design software that seeks out interesting design problems. Autodesk collaborated with Studio Echelman to create custom 3D software to model the sculpture and test its feasibility. “The software has allowed me to explore density, shape, and scale in much greater detail,” says Echelman. “We can manipulate our designs and see the results immediately. We’re able to push the boundaries of our designs further.”