Janet Echelman is known for her large-scale aerial sculptures, but a recent installation in Vancouver, B.C., Canada, topped her previous work both in size and scope. This one spanned 745 feet between the 24-story Fairmont Waterfront and the Vancouver Convention Center. The occasion was the TED Conference’s 30th anniversary in March.
The sculpture was constructed of twisted nylon, braided polyester and interactive, colored lighting. A complex matrix of 860,000 hand and machine-made knots and 145 miles of braided fiber weighing nearly 3,500 pounds make up “Skies Painted with Unnumbered Sparks.”
Beyond its spectacular size, this sculpture added interactivity, designed 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 the daytime, the sculpture’s delicate form blends in with clouds and sky.
In order to achieve such scale and complexity, Echelman turned to Autodesk 3D design software. Autodesk collaborated with Studio Echelman to create custom 3D software to model the sculpture and test its feasibility.
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.
The sculpture is designed to travel to cities around the globe after the 2014 TED Conference exhibition as an “idea worth spreading.”