“It looks like it’s holding up the clouds.” “It’s like a sky jelly fish.” “I love how the light moves across it along with the sound.”
These were some of the comments heard at TED2014 about Skies Painted with Unnumbered Sparks, a collaboration between sculptor Janet Echelman and data artist Aaron Koblin. This monumental sculpture stretched 745 feet, from the Vancouver Convention Centre where TED was held, over an open-air plaza on the edge of the city’s bay and up to the top of the Fairmont Waterfront hotel. Every night during the conference, dozens of people could be seen across the street setting up cameras and tripods to capture the glowing spectacle. Meanwhile, underneath the sculpture, even greater numbers of people gathered, most of them with their phones out. Using a phone, they could draw lines, squiggles, webs, and water drop rings onto the sculpture’s lush purples, blues, pinks and oranges.
Koblin, of Google’s Data Arts Team, told us a little about how this worked.
The end result: Viewers of the art were also a part of its creation, swiping and tapping on their screen to change the piece overhead.
“It’s exciting to see so many people engaging with the sculpture,” Koblin tells the TED Blog. “I’ve been particularly pleased with the conversations that have started between complete strangers standing beneath. It’s had the effect of bringing people together.”
Echelman sensed the same thing. “I’ve been surprised at how many people come up to tell me how much the sculpture has meant to them. One woman whose husband is undergoing cancer treatment told me the sculpture made her feel protected,” she says. “I’ve been surprised at the photographic response. So many people are sharing their phone photos, which are beautiful and ethereal, and dozens of people have been lining up each night with their tripods to photograph. I love that the sculpture could be a catalyst for all these people engaging in their own creative act.”
In a short talk at TED2014 about the sculpture, Echelman thanked the team of hundreds who helped. She especially thanked Autodesk, who designed custom 3D software to allow her ambitious vision to be manifested in reality and who were the principal sponsors of the work. She also thanked Koblin and Google for designing and powering the interactive artwork, enabling people to “choreograph light on the sculpture, to play with the sky.”