SouthCoast Today: Massive Kinetic Sculpture ‘Flies’ over Custom House Square

By Jennette Barnes

NEW BEDFORD — Get anywhere near Custom House Square this summer, and you will see a new kinetic sculpture, “Silver Current,” flying overhead.

But you don’t just see it — you hear it, watch it, and feel the air that sets it in motion.

“It’s awesome,” Sandria Parsons of Marion said after snapping some photographs of the half-finished installation Tuesday. She was driving by, saw it, and had to stop.

Some 50,000 strips of silver plastic film hang from monofilament fish nets that span the entire square. They sway in the wind, reflect colors like a prism in the sun, and make a shimmery, metallic sound as they move.

“I love the sound that it makes, and its responsiveness is lovely,” Parsons said.

The skies threatened rain Tuesday as artist Patrick Shearn and his crew tried to finish suspending the sculpture from trees around the square, the roof of the Custom House, and a pole installed at the center.

Shearn’s Los Angeles studio, Poetic Kinetics, has designed large-scale, site-specific art in many different forms in major cities around the world. Works have appeared at the Beijing Olympics, Sundance Film Festival and Burning Man, among others.

“Silver Current” is the latest in a series called “Skynets” that move with the wind.

“I was inspired by the seafaring, historical nature of the city,” he said between trips up on a lift for the installation. “And then also they’re doing this wind initiative thing, sort of handing off from sailing ships to modern wind farms, which I think is excellent. I’m really supportive of that. So we have wind currents and water currents and that kind of thing, and then the fishing history, so these look like sardines or some kind of schooling fish.”

The New Bedford nonprofit Design Art Technology Massachusetts, or DATMA, commissioned the 8,000 square-foot piece as part of its Summer Winds project, which features eight exhibitions and numerous one-day events contributed by more than 20 partner organizations. The project is designed to highlight New Bedford’s emerging role in wind energy.

An opening celebration for “Silver Current” is set for Saturday from 4 to 6 p.m. at Custom House Square. The exhibition runs through Sept. 30. Other Summer Winds events are listed on the DATMA website.

Lindsay Mis, executive director, credited the city’s other arts and culture organizations with helping New Bedford embrace art that might once have seemed too scary or different.

“We’re indebted to all the challenging projects that came before this one,” she said. “Otherwise, I don’t think this would be happening.”

Already, the motion-filled sculpture is attracting people to stop and gaze upward.

“I didn’t realize how involved it was,” New Bedford artist Michelle Lapointe said. Overhead, the crew was connecting sections of netting.

She was supposed to be heading to her own studio but didn’t want to leave.

“How often do you get to see this?” she said. “I love it. Are you kidding?”

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