What’s That Floating Above the Greenway?

Posted June 2, 2015 by Tony McMillen in Theater & Arts
As If It Were Already Here

Your first thought is that it looks like a massive oil slick rainbow that’s come to life and somehow learned to hover above the ground. Then you change your mind, decide it’s more like some massive Technicolor jellyfish that’s hanging in the sky over you. Or just some sort of benign and hypnotic creature, improbably shimmering and swaying high overhead in the summer air of downtown Boston.

Whatever it is you can’t stop looking up.

Internationally renowned local artist Janet Echelman’s new art sculpture, titled As If It Were Already Here, is currently suspended over Rose Kennedy Greenway and providing a good excuse for onlookers and passersby to practice craning their necks. Echelman’s sculpture stretches out some 600 feet over the Greenway and hangs 365 feet above its grassy knoll. The installation is comprised of over 100 miles of rope and over half a million knots which makes it not only an impressive bit of aerial engineering but also maybe the world’s biggest ever cat’s cradle.

As If It Were Already Here was designed specifically for Boston and the Greenway and includes some symbolic gestures to highlight the intent. The three voids in the fixture, the large open spaces in the netting, are meant to evoke the Tri-Mountain which was razed in the 18th century to create lands from the harbor.  Boston was actually originally called Tri-Mountain by the first English settlers due to its topography.

The colored banding of the installation itself is a tip of the Sox cap to the six traffic lanes that once snarled through the neighborhood before the Big Dig allowed the space to be reclaimed for urban pedestrian life. This homage might seem a bit abstract unless you come to the Greenway at night when you can see the sculpture transform, resembling something like time lapse traffic light photography frozen in motion and made jarringly real against the dark.

Regardless of what time you go the one thing you’ll notice once you stop gawking at the piece is that everyone here has their head up. The suit and ties from the Financial District that are stopping to stare from the sidewalk, the college age hipsters crouching down on the grass angling for the best spot to snap their perfect pic and the happy couples lazing on the Greenway’s hammocks soaking up the entire scene. Chins are up all around.

Janet Echelman’s been making these scenes a reality for a while. In her own words she builds “living, breathing sculpture environments that respond to the forces of nature — wind, water and light — and become inviting focal points for civic life.”  When you arrive at the Greenway you’ll notice right away her work achieves a particular balance between being visually beguiling but also quite calming, even meditative. Of course, peering up at it from a hammock on a sun-stained afternoon or bright city night might aid this effect. Echelman’s ethereal and whimsical As If It Were Already Here will be on display through October but it will be getting some company in the first week of June.

Brooklyn based artist Kyu Seok Oh’s “Wandering Sheep” will be joining Echelman’s work (presumably below it on the ground) and will feature 10 sheep sculptures constructed of molded, handmade paper and installed on various platforms around Chinatown Park.

We’d like there not to be one major piece of public art on the Greenway but a number of them,” said the Conservancy’s executive director, Jesse Brackenbury. “It allows us to change people’s experience of the place, bring people to experience something new, challenge them, get them talking.”