Painted Skies

I’d like to share with you an inspiring piece of artwork that I witnessed (alongside some family and friends) during a cool watery Saturday evening this past weekend. However this masterpiece is not part of a museum’s collection, nor is it part of an exhibition on gallery row…it’s SUSPENDED in mid-air between a 24-storey skyscraper and the Vancouver Convention Centre, a site where TED talks will be hosting their annual conference this week. This is a true example of where art and science meet!

Skies Painted With Unnumbered Sparks” is a massive aerial sculpture conceived and built by the world renowned artist Janet Echelman in collaboration with a huge technical support team of aeronautical and mechanical engineers, architects, lighting and fabric designers and Google’s Aaron Koblin, who masterminded the lighting effects on it’s interface in addition to an interactive component the public prompts using their Smartphone. Echelman also conceived a similar billowing sculpture Water Sky Garden” which premiered during the Olympic games, outside the Richmond Oval in the winter of 2010. Here are just a few images I was able to capture of the public art-piece under very soggy conditions…..


Skies Painted with Unnumbered Sparks – view from Vancouver Harbour


Skies Painted with Unnumbered Sparks – detail


Skies Painted with Unnumbered Sparks – centre detail

A bit about the artist and her fascinating work….Janet Echelman builds living, breathing sculpture environments that respond to the forces of nature — wind, water and light — public art installations that become inviting focal points for civic life in order to reshape urban airspace. Exploring the potential of unlikely materials, from fishing net to atomized water particles, Echelman combines ancient craft with cutting-edge technology to create her permanent sculpture at the scale of buildings. The one Vancouverites inaugurated last night spans 745 ft at its’ longest point and it is of a size and scale never before attempted! Experiential in nature, the result is a sculpture that shifts from being an object you look at, to something you can get lost in.


Janet Echelman with Mayor Gregor Robertson (right)

Janet will be giving a TED talk this week at The Vancouver Convention Centre and I managed to find her last TED presentation Taking Imagination Seriously in 2011 where she explains how she found her true voice as an artist after her paints didn’t show up during a residency in India. This forced her to look at an unorthodox new material while staying in a fishing village…thus learning how to weave and then ultimately installing her first sculpture on the beach entitled “Wide Hips”. The TED talk is definitely worth the watch!


TED talks comes to the Vancouver Convention Centre March 2014


Logan and some spectators interacting with the sculpture with their Smartphones

Her work has certainly evolved since then, to massive proportions, and her collaboration with Aaron Koblin and his team takes it to a new level. They were all on hand to enhance the visual effects by having the members of the public go to the http://sparks web browser. Once the program is activated the person could draw on their phones with their fingertips, this in turn becomes projected onto the surface netting of the moving aerial sculpture…a very cool effect that didn’t manage to show up on any of my photos.You can click on Aaron’s Ted Talk as well, where you can hear about how he takes vast amounts of data from thousands of people and weaves them into stunning visualizations, much like what Vancouverites witnessed last night.


Aaron Koblin explaining the interactive component works

Google interviewed many audience members Saturday night and asked us numerous questions about how we felt about Janet’s public artwork and installation. Here are just a few buzz words that people were throwing around about “Skies Painted with Unnumbered Sparks” and what it evoked: oyster, vessel, jellyfish, wave, aurora borealis, orb, oscillating, blowing and billowing net….a connector to the new generation! I myself connected to the sculpture on so many levels. Not only because of its primal/archetypal form but how it evokes motherhood and gathering… which is something I believe the artist herself tries to instill in her work. Everyone that can, should take in this awesome sight and see it for themselves. If you live in the lower Mainland you can drive down to Vancouver’s waterfront (preferably during the evening to experience it’s full effect)… but don’t wait too long… it will only be here until the end of March, after which it destined to paint skies in another part of the world!


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