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Skies Painted with Unnumbered Sparks: Janet Echelman at TED2014

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Janet Echelman. Photo: James Duncan Davidson

“I create sculpture that makes me feel protected, yet connected to limitless sky,” says Janet Echelman, the artist who gave the TED2011 talk “Taking imagination seriously.”

Echelman’s sculptures resemble netting — gigantic, beautifully draped, brightly colored and installed overhead. In fact, she’s noticed something about her installed works that she never expected to happen: People gather underneath the sculptures and use them as a social place.


Janet Echelman. Photo: James Duncan Davidson

“I started thinking about social spaces and how they’ve been built for millennia,” she says. “The Colosseum in Rome had a textile covering called a ‘velarium.’ In addition to shielding spectators, I imagine it gave them a sense of togetherness. I asked myself: what would a velarium for our time be?”

Echelman’s newest work may just be the answer. It’s a 745-foot sculpture hanging just outside the entrance to TED, suspended to the Vancouver Convention Centre and the Fairmont Waterfront hotel. Creating a sculpture of this size and magnitude was a vast undertaking and Echelman points out that she had help from a team of hundreds. Autodesk built a design tool for the project that helped her to “create sculpture at this scale and complexity.” Echelman also teamed with TED speaker Aaron Koblin—who she met at TED2011 when he gave the talk “Artfully visualizing our humanity.” The head of the Google Data Arts Group, Koblin “created this playful interactive artwork that enables people to choreograph light on the sculpture, to play with the sky,” she says.


Janet Echelman. Photo: James Duncan Davidson

And with that, Echelman officially introduces to this interactive artwork designed to create “the potential for a shared moment with a neighbor you don’t yet know”: Skies Painted with Unnumbered Sparks.