Cool people doing cool things: Janet Echelman

ID Collaborative blog post

If you don’t know about Janet Echelman, you should. She combines ancient craft with cutting-edge technology to create artworks that have become focal points for urban life on five continents.

According to her website: “Echelman first set out to be an artist after graduating college. She moved to Hong Kong in 1987 to study Chinese calligraphy and brush-painting. Later she moved to Bali, Indonesia, where she collaborated with artisans to combine traditional textile methods with contemporary painting.

When she lost her bamboo house in Bali to a fire, Echelman returned to the United States and began teaching at Harvard. After seven years as an Artist-in-Residence, she returned to Asia, embarking on a Fulbright lectureship in India.

With the promise to give painting exhibitions around the country, she shipped her paints to Mahabalipuram, a fishing village famous for sculpture. When her paints never arrived, Echelman, inspired by the local materials and culture, began working with bronze casters in the village.

She soon found the material too heavy and expensive for her Fulbright budget. While watching local fishermen bundling their nets one evening, Echelman began wondering if nets could be a new approach to sculpture: a way to create volumetric form without heavy, solid materials.

By the end of her Fulbright year, Echelman had created a series of netted sculpture in collaboration with the fishermen. Hoisting them onto poles, she discovered that their delicate surfaces revealed every ripple of wind.

Today Echelman has constructed net sculpture environments in metropolitan cities around the world. She sees public art as a team sport and collaborates with a range of professionals including aeronautical and mechanical engineers, architects, lighting designers, landscape architects, and fabricators.”

A studio statement from Janet Echelman’s website says “By combining meaning with physical form, it strives to create a visceral experience in diverse city environments, accessible to all. These sculpture environments embody local identity and invite residents to form a personal and dynamic relationship with the art and place. Each project becomes intimately tied to its environment through the use of local materials and working methods, thus strengthening neighborhood connections and promoting a distinctive civic character.”

We have a special place for Janet here in Greensboro where our home office located. The Triad Business Journal wrote on April 26, 2016 about the installation in our downtown LeBauer Park:

“Echelman’s ‘Where We Met’ is an aerial sculpture suspended from pylons as high as 60 feet tall and composed of multicolored netting that will move in the wind. Measuring 200 feet by 130 feet, the looser netting hangs from a “hard net” structure that’s laid out to mirror the railway lines that cut across North Carolina, and helped support the state and region’s textile industry.”

Watch the video below to see one of Echelman’s sculptures installed last year in Boston.