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Fabric art to be featured at 2010 Winter Olympics

Features, Landscapes | May 1, 2009 | By:

The 2010 Winter Olympics will host world-class athletes and fabric art worthy of the event.

Janet Echelman likes a good breeze. Her massive fabric sculptures pepper the world — from Phoenix to Portugal, Bombay to Hong Kong — often designed specifically for engaging the wind elements that surround them. Her latest project, outdoor public art for the 2010 Winter Olympics, takes to the sky. The Richmond Olympic Oval, created for the Vancouver Olympics, is home to the large $1.2 million public art installation — the city of Richmond’s most lavish public art expenditure to date. Called “Sky Lanterns,” the two pieces hang above a water garden lined with a striking red walkway. The entire installation is called “Water Sky Garden” and is a feature of the Olympic Oval. The massive red netlike sculptures on the eastern and northern ends of the building sway in the breeze, glow red and translucent in the night sky and draw viewers in to their several layers of complex weaving.

Sky-worthy materials

Hanging massive netted sculptures in the sky takes some strong material. “The sky lanterns are suspended from painted galvanized steel rings from which a Gore™ Tenara® Architectural fiber net sculpture is hung,” Echelman says.* To construct the netting, Echelman and her team had to braid and, in some cases, hand-knot the material to create the netting that characterizes the artwork.

Hoisted in the air, the larger of the two net lanterns is in the eastern portion of the Oval and reaches more than 23m in diameter and 8m in depth, supported by a 25m galvanized steel pylon. The smaller lantern to the north stretches to 16m in diameter and 6m in depth, supported by a 20m pylon. The fabrication of the nets involved an immense amount of handcraftsmanship. Hand-knotting, splicing and baiting skills were used that have been practiced by fishermen and lace makers for thousands of years.

Culturally inspired

Echelman drew inspiration from Richmond’s diverse population to create her art. “The sky lanterns, as well as the red pathways, are inspired by Richmond’s cultural communities. The city has the largest immigrant population by proportion of any city in Canada, with the majority of those immigrants being of Asian descent,” says Echelman. The unique netted quality of the sculptures also gives them added significance. The local native Musqueam band continues to teach its children to fish with nets in the Fraser River adjacent to the Richmond Olympic Oval.

The 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics will no doubt be a memorable event, rendered more so by Echelman’s artwork. In combination with the dragonlike meandering of the red walkway and the reflective water garden beneath, the sky lanterns will be an iconic part of the games.

Jake Kulju is a freelance writer based in St. Paul, Minn.
*Tenara, by W.L. Gore and Associates, is made of polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), the same material commonly known as Teflon®.

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