Skyscraper – sized fiber sculptures instill “ interconnectedness ” in public spaces

foreign well thank you nice to see you all am I the only one feeling inspired here today I was inspired by Ben Sanders talking about Awakening the possibility in other people and I guess as I'm you know sitting here thinking I want to add another question how how do we reawaken the feeling of connection to ourselves to others and to everything on this beautiful planet my story starts really right here in
Florida Florida girl growing up here we go my dream happened at age 14 I got to play Greg's piano concerto with the orchestra and at that moment I discovered I hated performing so is that door closed another door opened to go to college uh only I'm a public school kid I'm a slow reader and I was really terrified because I got into Harvard and I knew I wasn't prepared and I decided I needed to take one course without reading lots of books and papers and that's how I ended up in my first art class and at graduation my father asked you know what do you want to do and I said I want to be an artist and he said did any of your professors say you have talent and should pursue this no in fact they'd said not to but it's the only thing I
want to do um so I applied to seven art schools and I was rejected by all seven of them so I realized I would have to become my own teacher and find my own way and I uh with a one-way ticket to Bali and 300 in my pocket I proceeded to Apprentice myself with Craftsmen and this is my first satisfying painting and um I did that for 10 years and I applied for a grant to go study textiles and crafts in India and to teach painting and I shipped all of my paints there the deadline for these shows for the U.S embassy arrived but my paints did not and every day I would take a walk on the beach for exercise and at the end of the day the fishermen were reeling in their
Nets into these Mounds on the sand and I realized I didn't have the money to make the sculptures I imagined at the scale I wanted and so I looked at these nets and I thought that's volumetric form without heavy solid material and so I started to work with the fishermen to create my very first sculpture it's a self-portrait the title is wide hips and we lifted them up in theater to take photographs for the invitation card and at that moment I discovered they danced in the wind in these ever-changing patterns and I was completely mesmerized so I didn't set out to be a sculptor of wind I was just engaging with materials and methods in the world around me and that led me to that discovery
I went back to India to create a piece for the world's largest art fair here we are making a hundred wait a million and a half hand-tied knots with eight families of fishermen in uh which I packed up in my duffel bag and carted off to Madrid Spain in one long weekend more than a hundred thousand people saw it including the urbanist Manuel Sola Morales who was redesigning the Waterfront of Portugal and he asked could I create a permanent work like this for the city that would withstand Salt Air ultraviolet rays and um pollution and of course I didn't know how but I said yes not knowing how I had to find a material that could withstand all of these especially UV light while remaining soft and fluidly moving and and preserve the
idiosyncratic quality of the hand-tied knots of The Craft but bring it to scale I needed to solve the engineering problem it had to withstand a hurricane and I had to prove it with no money for a wind tunnel test so I went searching and found a computer scientist who designed sales for racing cup America's Cup racing yachts that's some of the math behind it then I needed a way to mechanically produce it so that the knots would be tight enough to withstand a hurricane and I went from Factory to factory only one said yes and I'm still working with them today we needed a way to explain this to industrial workers so I had to come up with a language to describe an ancient craft so that industrial workers could enact it and after three years and the birth of both of my children we raised a
40 000 square foot piece of lace net and it had lost nothing of the qualities that had drawn me to that craft in the first place at scale and as I walked underneath it for the first time I felt both sheltered and at the same time the sense of Limitless space and freedom and I knew that my life was never going to be the same when you drive up this is what I videotaped my first site visit and this is what you see today when you drive up the coast of Portugal and this is an ordinary day as we studied thank you thank you this is my favorite photo no I did not
take it I found it on Flickr the piece has been there 20 years and what you can't see is that it's a three-lane highway and there's no crosswalk so people have had to Dart through traffic to get underneath it and a friend said go look at Google Earth you know where there's like one icon per country and it was the image representing the whole country of Portugal and I don't know who took the photo or what the algorithm is but these works are having a life of Their Own I'm just going to zip through this is what was going to be built for the Vancouver Winter Olympics and this is what we designed and built water Sky Garden this was San Francisco International Airport under construction of Terminal 2 and this is every beating second right after you get through security this is Downtown Phoenix they brought me
in and said we want a iconic work for our city and I said what's here parking lots and a notorious strip club here's that place today it's called her secret is patience and it's always moving bringing your eyes up to the sky casting Shadow drawings onto the ground creating Cooling and also this ever-changing pattern and changing scale to get us to just look up there you can see the Shadows moving with the Wind and at night now bicycle Rickshaw drivers earn their income driving this is me in the back seat you know videotaping up it takes a full year to see the permutations of colored light that I designed in the hot summer it's cooler colors so I'm searching for ways to like create
a visual way of expressing meaning that we can come together and discuss and think about and feel moved by I got a call from Denver they were hosting the biennial of the Americas and they wanted an artist to represent the interconnectedness of Nations I had no idea how to do that but I wanted to so I said yes and it was right when there had been a tragic earthquake in Chile and I saw on Noah's website this mapping of the wave heights moving across the Pacific Ocean and I thought that is a physical concrete scientific expression of interconnectedness and I wrote to Noah and said can you share your data set and in my studio we took that data and turned it to this this was my first time working with data it was so much more complex of a shape that I couldn't make a a metal Armature
like in all the earlier works I showed you because steel would have become too heavy so I thought in my head what if we just did an X Y axis if I could find a really strong fiber then I should be able to pick a point anywhere and make any shape I want and it turns out that Nasa uses a fiber like to tether the Mars rover it's called polytetrafluoroethylene and this ultra high molecular weight polyethylene and it is 15 times stronger than steel so here we are I didn't have any computer software we're just using tax in a I'm just scaling up and gridding to make a full-scale template to make the first completely soft sculpture for me so that it can literally tie in lace into the fabric of the city this is Denver the Denver Art Museum just using the strength of the
buildings that exist a more sustainable approach using what already exists and so now it's so light it can travel the world so easily in a in a box not very big this is Sydney Australia Amsterdam here you can see installing this the first time we dealt with boat traffic um Singapore Prague Shanghai Santiago Chile Montreal you can see it go from day to night Hong Kong and this summer in Munich creating uh taking a place with a very heavy history of Adolf Hitler and creating my German colleague said we've created a new history here the odeons plots and then permanent works this is in
Korea it's a global project about global interconnectedness and I'm finding that using the concrete specificity of scientific data sets is really meaningful for me as a way to get at these more abstract difficult ideas and this is this is the data set of the tsunami that hit Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan and this is our new software that we've been creating in our studio and this is the output of that and then this is in Washington DC right now you can visit it at the American Art Museum Renwick Gallery you can see a little bit of the craftsmanship up close and um I'm projecting Shadows onto the walls that gradually change over 30 minutes and people have started just lying down on the carpet and just um I had to learn how to make my own carpet it's out of recycled fishing nets
and surprising things are happening pop-up weddings and um people posting so much on Instagram uh even the White House brought a delegation of the Nordic countries and posted it and and the Washington Post was writing about how much people are posting about it I'm like please write about the art um and then it I I created a piece to travel outdoors in the world this is London we convinced the mayor to shut down Oxford and Regent Street in the busiest intersection in all of London and because there were so many people they made the tube exit only so that people would not be trampled and what really surprised me it was January and people started lying down on the cold asphalt and just taking back the streets and enjoying this play of wind and light unfolding above them
this is my team working hard upstairs and this project is continuing to travel Madrid Dubai this is Vienna Museum quarter this is Sweden Helsinki Finland and I'm really like searching for how to express the identity of a place Bill and Melinda Gates built a foundation headquarters and they brought me in asking me to express the mission or the spirit of their mission in physical form which I was completely stumped because you know they're trying to give every person health I mean like how do you wrap your head around that and for me I could only think about one day what does it mean to see a day in its fullest color because if I'm colorblind I see the world but not in its full color so this is a graphing I put a camera on the roof and documented the sky for 24 hours and graphed the numerical value of that
color in a day and these are my models prototyping is part of my process from string models and wire to computer models and working with Engineers to analyze the wind forces and here you can see the simulation of gravity and then we study wind now this piece is interacting with the colors of sky during the day but at night I wanted it to come alive and I wanted to express their mission you know they talked about how the British Empire the Sun never set well I thought this foundation's work starts with Sunrise every day to to tackle these intractable problems and so I want the color of sunlight in real time changing every day to be projected onto this work so I'm converting the color of sunrise in each of their offices into the colored pixels using a very sustainable LED light
system and then projecting it so I am expressing their mission which is working as the sun is rising every moment changing every day and you can see it from the Space Needle and each of those intersections are hand spliced we're using very old technology what fishermen used a thousand years ago with these newest Technologies so we're also connecting ourselves to our past as well uh the Sunset Strip in California West Hollywood asked if I could design a piece I was thinking about dream catchers people go to Hollywood for their dreams and I was also having insomnia and so in the middle of the night I was looking on YouTube and I saw this video of what happens in your brain when you hit REM sleep which I wished that I was having and so I began to design a piece called dream catcher and we structurally
connected it to each floor of the two Hotel Towers this is the one hotel in West Hollywood and I wanted when you walked underneath and you looked up and saw this Oculus it would line up and here is the real thing you can go there there's a bar on the roof you can look down and here it is at night and looking out of your window and this is sort of some of the technology and Innovation we have been developing ways to analyze the forces at play here and then we also test them physically with prototypes in my studio and as they poured the concrete slab of each floor we embedded seamlessly all of the hardware so that it looks like this seamless move from architecture to Art to architecture hard to soft to heart and this is a lidar scan just to check our software we're constantly evolving
and developing our technology this gives you a little peek as if we could fly through the air like the drones so history is another thing I'm trying to express how do we express history in a way that brings us together in North Carolina they wanted me to look at their history of textiles I looked at where all of the textile mills had been which were dotted along oh it's loud the textile mills and this is a piece that comes up or down by pushing a button with a winch system when they get an ice storm and looking at the history in Boston where there was a giant Highway that cut the city off from the Waterfront and then the big dig buried it and suddenly there was a green ribbon and they had my first thought was to sew the city
together and then because they had cut down three mountains to make that landfill where the park is I made these three voids and so this became a piece this is our newest version of the software it's called as if it were already here and here you can see the colors of bobbins as my design process unfolds and I'm always looking about how the work relates physically to its a spatial envelope of the city but also how it how when you're walking or driving or cycling how it moves when you see it from different angles and so this is the comparison of our Technologies output to a photo I took and so at 3 A.M in the morning seven cranes rolled in and they shut I-90 to install this piece it comes out of a crate weighs only two thousand pounds for a 600 foot piece that goes up to the 28th story and here you can see us pulling it up
with chains to the 28th story and at every moment my Engineers can see the numerical forces on their iPhone and it can withstand up to a hundred thousand pounds of force at a single point and these are all private building owners agreeing to work together for the Civic experience of everyone which for me is as much a part of the meaning of the piece and it's moving at every moment with the wind a friend of mine who does a lot of meditation said why don't we lie down underneath it and I I lay down on the grass and I close my eyes and then when I open them I thought it's as if I can see the sky breathing and at night it transforms with very slowly changing colors and um a gentleman who's a waiter in the steak restaurant at the base of that high-rise told me that at the end of his shift at
midnight or 1am before he went home he would lie down in the grass and just look up and watch the colors change before making his way home I'm playing with participation this is Vancouver where uh the Ted conference was celebrating their anniversary and they asked me to design a work a 750-foot span across Federal ports and city and state lines and I partnered with Google to create a way that people could co-create the work with me by selecting colors and making gestures and so you and I I might be the white circles making Ripple effects and it was a virtual space and a physical space at the same time I'm experimenting with human beings I got a call from the Stuttgart ballet in
Germany we hear you work with the choreography of wind can you work with the choreography of human beings so this is one of the new sort of experimental Edge for me where I'm playing and creating a sculpture that is Dancing with humans and it really is an exploration of our our interactions with our planet like we are dancing together we are influencing each other but we are not the same scale downtown Philadelphia wanted a new work for the plaza in front of City Hall that was the historic source of water for the city and also the plaza where they used to have a train station run on Steam and I thought I want to link transportation and water in the content but netting isn't the right material I'd never worked with water before but I wanted to create a live expression of the movement of trains underground above ground with
curtains of water particles of mist and I went searching I found a failed commercial product they'd sold four of these video missed screens and the fifth one was in the back room it just didn't work as a video screen but as an art material I thought can I imagine ways of lighting it and I started to prototype it with multiple ways of blending colored light and so the piece is now opened in downtown Philadelphia and it's playful and the particles of light of water are so small that you can walk through in a full three-piece business suit and never get wet I have a little video you can see it's there three seasons a year because in the winter this is the ice skating rink in front of City Hall but what's funny is you don't know where it's coming because it's being driven by the timing of the trains underground and if you pay attention you also will notice there's more East-West traffic at certain times
of day and oh also the green line you've just missed your train intimate works are a new challenge for me I want to create that sense of intimacy and have just started doing Works in private homes this is in a home in California a piece uh about folding and coming together and love and this is our um rendering from our software and this is the real thing integrating with the architecture and creating something you can get lost in in a private way this is another private home in another country creating they have a ballroom and here at night it transforms and I'm just going to close with a piece that is very nearby and some people here today at lunch were telling me they had visited and I invite you this is the St Petersburg pier and when I received this
commission it was for a different site and they moved it to this part of the pier which I discovered had a history of it was the place where swimmings occurred in the civil rights movement and that it led to a U.S Supreme Court ruling that integrated pools and beaches all over the United States like what an important place there was not a single marker a historical marker of any kind so I thought I would make a 600 foot marker uh it's got a million and a half plus knots it is designed for a category five hurricane it's made of 180 miles of twine and its title is bending Arc of course making reference to Martin Luther King's speech because this is a place that now welcomes everyone it's something that all of us can go and enjoy and here you can see it in the daylight the colors blending with Skye and at
night it begins to transform and it has started to become organically a part of community life I think on Sundays they have a this is a drumming circle that has just organically come up they have uh events underneath it um when they're they were having weekly black lives matter marches this became the the group chose this as the destination every Friday night to tell stories underneath as if the sculpture could hold those feelings and emotions and when Ukraine was invaded by Russia I went down and we turned it yellow and blue it's a piece that evolves with time with the community it grows with meaning there was a wedding on a tandem bicycle recently they sent me photos and I will end by sharing um during um I everyone here knows this hurricane I won't even utter the name a little video
from St Petersburg yeah let's go and check this out we'll see what we have here there we go and this is uh say it again in my ear this is the Arkin that's that kind of sculpture that hangs uh hangs down that's a piece of artwork and you see it kind of billowing in the in the wind there uh if you didn't know what that piece of art was you it would be hard to understand what you're what you're looking at here but this is basically looking up it's like it's netting but I believe it's maybe made of wire or something I think so yeah I've been been there yes it's designed instead of fighting nature it's moving and adapting with nature it lets the wind blow through it it moves it dances it has never looked more beautiful uh to me than seeing it on the news as it danced through the hurricane and I close by just acknowledging that this is a team sport and if I were limited to being the only player this
would never happen thank you it's stay for one minute because I want to ask you a question and it was sort of like the one you almost answered it there when you showed the the work that stood up to Hurricane Ian how do you know that your works are going to survive extreme weather I was thinking of putting something in the middle of Denver where they might have high winds or here where you would see a hurricane Force how do you know it's a really good question I would never trust me to tell you it's that I work with the world's best Engineers my engineer did the world's tallest building the Burj Khalifa and he analyzes it with his team from Som Skidmore Owings and Merrell and they stamp a document and they say this is engineered to 155 miles per hour and let me tell you they give me pushback it's real collaboration they're like you need to change the density by 10 percent in order if we're going to meet a
category 5 hurricane but if we only need a category four we design differently so ice storms snow these are all things we can design for so second question my wife and I are thinking of putting a pool in our backyard and there's a little man I I must Assuming he's a little man who works for the township that I live in who is a pain in the butt he's the inspector he's the inspector and the fence man and you have to you have to confirm to everything that the fence man says so how do you convince the fence man in Barcelona that you're going to rig wires or the real estate owner that you're going to have wires going from this level over here and there and there and it's all going to be safe and it's not going to come down and fall on somebody's head how many how do you navigate the permissions required to do what you do well this is from experience I start early we start the conversation we go to
the building department from the moment I get the commission we talk to them we show them examples we explain how it is we analyze the data because this is you know they understand fence Heights and structures that they know but this is kind of work they don't know and so it's by starting early being in dialogue being a team it's like what do we need to do to get past the finish line and by the way we also worked with the Florida environmental Commission because we needed to show them we've never ever had an injury or death of a bird we had we had the we had you know activist March yeah I mean I I'm an environmentalist and so we had people marching opposing the work because of the birds and it's like but look at the science let's look at the data and we work together so I think it's by ask by by going early and asking what they need and then then it becomes a team effort