Janet Echelman

0 Comments 18 June 2015

When you think of art you don’t tend to link it with science, nor do you link fishing with sculptures or weather patterns with urban attractions. Yet Janet Echelmans work is a melting pot of all of these elements and she uses them to create her incredible floating sculptures.

Echelmans career as an artist really began to take off in 1996 when her paintings were lost in the mail on their way to India, where she had a Fulbright lectureship. Forced to improvise, she found inspiration in the town her paintings never arrived in, Mahabalipuran, and its affiliation with two things: fishing and sculpture. She combined them to create the first of her netted sculptures.

Her first work of this kind was created out of fishing nets and, with the help of fishermen, was hoisted by poles, photographed and titled ‘Wide Hips’. It was the first of many variations on a similar theme.

JE impatient optimist 2

Her second sculpture was again made in collaboration with fishermen from Mahabalipuran and was comprised of 1.5 million hand-tied knots. After hanging briefly in Madrid, it caught the eye of urban planner, Manual Sola-Morales, who asked her to create a permanent piece for the waterfront of Porto, Portugal.

To combat the twin challenges of withstanding the elements while retaining shape and fluidity of movement, Echelman teamed up with aeronautical engineer, Peter Heppel, a sail designer for the Americas cup and an industrial fishnet factory. The result was a lace net over 4,500 square metres in size suspended from a steel ring, titled “She Changes”. It became a focal piece in an area that had been a bland uninteresting space, transforming it into an eye-catching centrepiece, catching the wind and the light, drawing eyes and wonder into the sky of the waterfront.

Janet Echelman project.

Her next project was for the Biennial of the Americas in Denver; Echelman recievedthe modest request of “representing 35 nations of the Western hemisphere and their interconnectedness in a sculpture”. No mean feat, but she accepted.

Following Chile’s tragic earthquake and tsunami and after reading an article by NASA, Echelman found that the earthquake had sped up the Earth’s rotation by 1.26 micro-seconds. Amazed at how a physical event could alter the route of time, she was inspired to model her piece for the Biennial of the Americas on the tsunami. After looking at the tsunami wave length data collected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Echelman modelled her sculpture on the pattern of the tsunamis amplitude as it coursed through the ocean, titling it “1.26”, after the time lost due to the event. It became a travelling piece whose soft, lightweight materials made it easy to attach to existing architecture.

Each of Echelmans pieces are expertly engineered to fit into their environment, modelled on wind, light and movement and changing with the seasons, weather conditions and lighting to become endlessly interesting works of art. During the day they rely on natural light and wind and the initial colour of the material. But by night they are lit up in changing coloured lights, hiding the support cables and creating a floating, moving forms. When asked about colour choice, Echelman says that she is inspired by the natural colours which occur in the place of her work, monsoons or sunsets or the weather. She also changes the colours to provide a sense of relief for her audience, cool colours in summer and warm colours in winter.

Colours also play a role in forming the shape of her works, one in particular “Impatient Optimist” suspended in Seattle, was created by taking photos of the sky every five minutes for an entire day. The colours were then graphed radially and the shape took form.

JE dancers

Among the many artists, scientists and other professionals that Janet Echelman has worked with is choreographer Katarzyna Kozielska. The pair collaborated for the world premiere of “A. Memory” performed by the Stuttgart Ballet. The net created by Echelman became an extension the dancer’s bodies, accentuating the movements and becoming an interesting and unique focal point of the ballet.

Janet Echelmans method of combining science with art, collaborating with other professionals and using light and three-dimensional shape to create deceptively simple, large yet light and billowing yet voluminous forms is unique. Her sculptures bring a sense of awe and draw eyes upwards, bringing new life to each space they occupy. The sculptures are not merely something you can look at but, as Echelman herself put it, something you can “get lost in”.

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