Monday, March 17, 2014

A browser that paints the sky

Today, residents of Vancouver, Canada, will notice a new addition to their scenic waterfront: an interactive artwork on one of the largest textile sculptures ever. The piece, entitled Unnumbered Sparks, is a collaboration between artist Janet Echelman and Google Creative Director Aaron Koblin, as part of TED’s 30th annual conference.

Echelman is known for building sculptures that respond to the forces of nature—wind, water and light—and this project is no exception. Made from ultralight fibers, the sculpture soars from the roof of a skyscraper over the water and walkways near the Vancouver Convention Center (site map). As visitors collaborate via mobile devices, they create colors and ripples that move over its surface.
Photo by Ema Peter

What's not obvious to the public is when you look at the sculpture, you're actually looking at a web browser. The interactive lighting is actually one giant Chrome window, stretched across the 300-foot long sculpture with the help of five high-definition projectors. To interact, visitors open a website using Chrome or other modern mobile browser on their smartphone or tablet. After selecting a color, they use their fingers to trace paths along the surface of their device, which are then projected onto the sculpture in real-time as colorful beams of light. The result is a crowd-controlled visual experiment on a giant, floating canvas.

Photo by Ema Peter

Watch this short documentary to get a quick look at the work involved in creating this project:


Art and technology are continuously evolving together, and we hope that this project showcases the opportunity for mobile devices and the web to play a part in that evolution. We all carry devices in our pockets that have the power to connect with people around the world, but rarely do we get a chance to use this incredible power to connect and create with the people standing next to us. With Unnumbered Sparks, we hope to turn strangers into collaborators, working together to create a single piece of art on this amazing canvas.