Let’s (TED)Talk About Art

As many of you know, the TED2014 conference just wrapped up here in Vancouver, the first time this conference has ever happened in our city. It was TED’s 30th anniversary, so they wanted to try a new space. The conference was held at the Vancouver Convention Centre from March 17-21, and while most human beings could not afford the ludicrous $7500 entrance ticket, thankfully, they live streamed the talks at a number of universities, community centers, and non-profit groups so everyone could get a slice of these “ideas worth spreading.”

TED2014 at the Vancouver Convention Centre

One of the presenters this year was Boston artist Janet Echelman, whose aerial sculpture titled “Skies Painted With Unnumbered Sparks” was installed specifically for the conference. This 745-foot wide installation, which Echelman calls “a custom-knitted sweater for the city” is made of soft netting and hangs between the roof of the 24-storey Fairmont Waterfront Hotel and the Vancouver Convention Centre. It’s only up for one more day before it travels to other cities, so I made sure to stop by one rainy Tuesday evening and catch some pictures of her biggest sculpture to date.

Skies Painted With Unnumbered Sparks by Janet Echelman. 2014

The word “amoeba” immediately came to mind when I beheld this breathtaking sculpture because it never looks the same: 1) it moves with the wind, forming new shapes against the sky, 2) it looks different depending which angle you view it from, and 3) it’s installed with interactive lighting, which means anyone with a cellphone can sign in with the wifi password (indicated on a plaque nearby) and choose which colours and shapes will dance across its sinewy arms. My friend is responsible for the yellow spiral on the bottom right:

I love the interactiveness and playfulness of this sculpture. Not only can the everyday passerby contribute to the beauty of this piece, but we can do so with other strangers—all experimenting with the same thing as we experience a marriage of technology and art.

If you watch Echelman’s TEDTalk below, it’s absolutely fascinating how she started working with nets in the first place. I love how she describes what she’s trying to do with her aerial artworks that have spanned skies in Sydney (Australia), Porto (Portugal), Amsterdam, Seattle, Phoenix, and Denver. As she says in her kickstarter campaign, she wants to bring an “experience of softness as a counterpoint to hard-edge cities” and a “symbol of resiliency through the ability to adapt to a changing environment.”

I have never seen anything like it before. And she’s right—the softness and whimsicality it carries, like a parachute or a kite, serves as a welcome change from the angular edges of our cities and of our own lives, reminding us that soft, gentle, and transparent can be just as powerful as hard, strong, and sharp.