“Cities have the capability of providing something for everyone, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.” –Jane Jacobs
Temporary public art installations have been met with both wonder and skepticism over the many decades. To some it may seem an absolute waste of time, materials, and space, while to others the perfect breath of freshness that their city needs. The two sides of this debate can extend well beyond the 400 words or so to which I intend to keep this post. However, I would like to focus on such an installation scheduled for March of this year in Vancouver, B.C. The artist, Janet Echelman, specializes in a free flowing sculpture—fabric netting suspended over urban areas. Her work has been on display in various cities and countries including the United States, The Netherlands, Australia, India, and Portugal. This project will purposefully coincide with the 30th anniversary of the TED Conference to be held in Vancouver and at which Echelman will be speaking.
This will be Janet Echelman’s largest project yet spanning 700 feet in diameter and suspended from a 24-story building. It will umbrella traffic from pedestrians, vehicles and even boats. At night, the sculpture will be enhanced with an interactive lighting installation. “I am an artist who builds soft billowing sculpture as a counterpoint the hard edged cities”, says Echelman in her Kickstarter video. Crowdfunding is needed to cover the costs of labor and heavy equipment required to hoist the sculpture into the sky and affix it to the designated skyscraper. Some of the rewards for project backers include original screen prints signed by the artist, t-shirts and postcards.
Two prominent artists in this area, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, have undoubtedly inspired Echelman’s work. Their provocative fabric wrapping of man-made and natural structures have stimulated, disturbed, and held captive many millions of people around the world over. Their 2005 project The Gates, for example, drew in crowds in excess of 4 million people to its two-week display in New York City’s Central Park. This sudden influx of people—commonly united in the observance of striking public art—is a catalyst for new ideas. Barriers are broken down and interaction had among fellow residents and inbound tourists. The common spaces in cities, often transitional and bare, become a hive buzzing with conversation, media, and interaction. Public art installations are a valuable piece of any city’s socioeconomic makeup.
Janet Echelman’s piece will provide a solid POP for the city of Vancouver and TED Conference’s 30th anniversary kick-off.