Some say it looks a like giant trash can; others that it looks like a tornado that sucked up too much junk and nosedived into a hill.

Whatever their conclusions, commuters who use the Whitehurst Freeway have been doing a lot of rubbernecking lately, trying to figure out what is happening at the grassy site near 27th and K streets NW.

The 40-foot-tall structure--made from an inverted conical web of steel rods hung with tons of junked electrical appliances--is, in fact, a not-yet-completed sculpture titled "Worlds Apart" by New York artist Nancy Rubins, 29. It is one of 39 public-site sculptures commissioned by the Washington Project for the Arts since 1979. Bob Wade's "World's Largest Cowboy Boots," shown at 12th and G streets NW in 1979, is among the most memorable.

Rubins, who built a similar outdoor work in Chicago two years ago, has been sweltering in the summer heat for the past six weeks trying to get it finished. She has been helped by several area artists and workers from the Washington Project for the Arts.

"I think it's great that people wonder about it," said the artist, who is less pleased by the hostility she has already encountered from one lawyer who lives nearby and who has threatened to have the work removed. According to Rubins, a Foggy Bottom neighborhood association unanimously approved installation of the piece.

"But a 12-year-old came by the other day and had this neat perspective," said Rubins. "He said it looks like four things: a whirlpool, a black hole, a witch's hat and a cornucopia. I thought it was great that a kid could see all that."

By yesterday, the work was half covered with vaporizers, humidifiers and amplifiers, clocks, crockpots and coffee pots, all wired to the webbed armature. "When we finish we'll pack it all with cement," said Rubins.

She hopes the work, which is scheduled to come down in six months, will be completed in another week.