From Google, A Giant Psychedelic Sculpture Visitors Control With Chrome

Google Creative Lab wunderkind Aaron Koblin partners with installation artist Janet Echelman on an interactive floating sculpture.

Last month, Vancouver updated its skyline. More ephemeral than a building or billboard, the new kid is a gargantuan pink-and-orange sculpture that resembles a trapeze net. But, unusually, it can be digitally decorated by spectators below.


Unnumbered Sparks is the brainchild of Aaron Koblin, creative director of Google Creative Lab, and artist Janet Echelman, who describes her pieces simply: soft shapes that are the size of buildings. The creators met at TED in 2011, and have since been looking for an opportunity to marry their approaches to interactive art. “There wasn’t really a brief,” Koblin says, “just an opportunity.”

At Google Creative Lab, Koblin creates digital work that seems to almost leap out of the computer screen. A good example is this music video for Arcade Fire’s Reflektor album. Watch it: You can control lighting effects with your mouse. Echelman’s work has more of an analog interactivity, one that’s determined by the weather. Her billowing sculptures are made of fishing nets, which she began using in India when she traveled there on a Fulbright for an art show–and her paints didn’t make it.

Echelman improvised the form back then, but it’s now her principal métier. In part, this is because the lightweight material lets her create what she calls “volumetric forms” that fluctuate and dance in midair.

To let the people of Vancouver interact with Unnumbered Sparks, Koblin projected a huge Google Chrome browser window onto the sculpture (which is suspended from nearby buildings). Spectators connect to the local Wi-Fi through smartphones, and can hook up directly to Chrome. A gesture-based app lets people draw and paint with light. “You don’t have to download anything,” Koblin tells Co.Design. “You can just connect, and have a powerful interaction very easily and without sacrificing design.” The effect is something like a psychedelic electric jellyfish in the sky.

Check your skyline: Unnumbered Sparks is traveling around the country.

About the author

Margaret Rhodes is a former associate editor for Fast Company magazine.