Biography

janet-ted-2014Janet Echelman builds living, breathing sculpture environments that respond to the forces of nature — wind, water and light — and become inviting focal points for civic life. Exploring the potential of unlikely materials, from fishing net to atomized water particles, Echelman combines ancient craft with cutting-edge technology to create her permanent sculpture at the scale of buildings. Experiential in nature, the result is sculpture that shifts from being an object you look at, to something you can get lost in.

Recent prominent works include: “Her Secret is Patience” spanning two city blocks in downtown Phoenix, “Water Sky Garden” which premiered for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, “She Changes” on the waterfront in Porto, Portugal, and “Every Beating Second” in San Francisco Airport’s new Terminal Two.

Recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship, Echelman was named an Architectural Digest 2012 Innovator for “changing the very essence of urban spaces.” Her TED talk “Taking Imagination Seriously” has been translated into 34 languages and is estimated to have been viewed by more than a million people worldwide.

Artist’s Story

American artist Janet Echelman reshapes urban airspace with monumental, fluidly moving sculpture that responds to environmental forces including wind, water, and sunlight.

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.

She built her studio beside her hundred-year-old house, where she lives with her husband David Feldman and their two children.

VIEW ARTIST’S C.V.  »

Studio Statement

about-studioStudio Echelman explores the cutting edge of sculpture, public art, and urban transformation. Assembled and led by internationally recognized sculptor Janet Echelman, the design team focuses on the development and creation of large-scale artworks.

The permanent and temporary projects draw inspiration from ancient craft and modern technology. Using materials from woven fiber to atomized mist, the studio creates living, breathing pieces that respond to the forces of nature — wind, water and light.

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.

The design team spans the globe. Studio Echelman is privileged to collaborate with brilliant aeronautical and mechanical engineers, architects, lighting designers, landscape architects, and fabricators.

Birds and Wildlife Information

We get asked questions frequently about the safety of birds and wildlife with respect to our sculptures. No bird or creature has ever been harmed from one of our artworks. Our work goes through a careful review in order to receive legal permits before construction begins. We consulted a bio-engineering firm that explained how the physical qualities of the artwork do not meet the criteria that would endanger birds. Our nets are made of thicker rope with wider net openings than those used to entrap flying birds or other creatures. Our structures are not unlike naturally occurring vines and thickets often found in local forests, and birds are well adapted to avoid these.

Janet Echelman Narrative

1987 Moves to Bali, Indonesia after graduating from Harvard.
1989 Robert Rauschenberg discovers Echelman’s art in Asia and curates solo in the US. Rauschenberg purchases three canvases for personal collection.
1992 After living in Bali for five years, a house fire destroys studio. Invited to teach at Harvard. Moves to Cambridge.
1997 Travels to India on a Fulbright Lectureship to teach painting and exhibit work. Painting supplies never arrive. Looks towards local surroundings and begins first sculptures using indigenous fishing nets.
1999 Establishes studio in New York City.
2004 Collaborates with engineer to create custom software to design porous, dynamically moving sculptures. Studio is able to design sculpture for hurricane winds and harsh weather conditions. Adapts industrial material used for astronaut’s spacesuits to make long-lasting, color-fast twine.
2005 Premieres first monumental permanent outdoor sculpture in Porto, Portugal to suspend above highway roundabout. She Changes is inspired by traditional local lace-making, fishing traps, and striped smokestacks.
2009 Creates Her Secret is Patience, a sculpture icon for downtown Phoenix, Arizona. Works with roller-coaster manufacturer to bend metal armature. Incorporates programmable lighting that changes gradually through the seasons. Credited with creating a sense of place that fosters urban identity and revitalization.
2009 Installs Water Sky Garden for the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Winter Games speed-skating venue – the Richmond Olympic Oval. Works with team to shape visitors’ path through the space. Designs two netted sculptures and “water drawing” fountains that utilize run-off water.
2010 Premier of 1.26 in Denver’s Civic Center Park to commemorate the first Biennial of the Americas. Draws inspiration from the interconnectedness of Earth’s systems. Studio uses laboratory data from NASA and NOAA on the effects of the 2010 Chile earthquake, and the resulting 1.26-microsecond shortening of the Earth’s day.
2010 Philadelphia’s Center City District selects Echelman to create iconic artwork for the redesign of Dilworth Plaza. Artwork moves curtains of mist and colored light to trace the paths of subway trains above ground.
2011 Echelman presents a main stage TED talk in Long Beach, CA. Her “Taking Imagination Seriously” talk has been translated into 34 languages and is estimated to have been viewed by more than a million people worldwide.
2011 Every Beating Second, commissioned by San Francisco Arts Commission, premieres in newly renovated Terminal 2 at San Francisco International Airport. Echelman creates a “Zone of Recomposure” to provide travelers a contemplative environment. Cuts three round skylights into the ceiling to suspend translucent, colored netting.
2011 Echelman is named a Fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation for demonstrating “exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts.”
2011 1.26 sculpture travels to Sydney, Australia for Sydney’s Art & About event. Sculpture is suspended from Sydney Town Hall over busiest traffic intersection on the continent. Composed of fibers more than 15 times stronger than steel by weight, its low-impact, ultra-lightweight design allows it to temporarily attach to existing architecture.
2012 Selected by Architectural Digest as a 2012 Innovator. Describes Echelman’s sculpture as “changing the very essence of urban spaces.” One of eight artists, architects, landscape architects, and designers from around the globe chosen to receive honor.
2012 Begins collaboration with Autodesk to develop custom software tool to design netted sculptures. Studio pushes the boundaries of their designs by more easily exploring net densities, shape, and scale, and simulating the effects of gravity and wind.
2012 1.26 makes European debut – its third continent after Denver and Sydney. 230-foot aerial sculpture is signature project of the inaugural Amsterdam Light Festival, suspended over the Amstel River in front of City Hall and Muziektheater.
2013 Oprah Magazine ranks Echelman’s work #1 on her “List of 50 Things that Make You Say Wow!” in September issue. List showcases 50 people, places, or things, for their ability to “inspire and captivate” viewers.
2013 The Space Between Us premieres at GLOW, an all-night art event on Santa Monica Beach. Echelman incorporates audio component synced with custom lighting. 150,000 people attend and participate in sculpting earthwork beneath aerial sculpture. NY Times credits Echelman’s work for “giving crafts a coolly conceptual edge.”
2014 Installs prototype for permanent iconic commission for Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation campus in Seattle. Final artwork to be installed September 2014.
2014 1.26 sculpture premieres in Singapore, its fourth continent, for the iLight Marina Bay Festival.
2014 Installs largest, most technologically challenging project to date at the TED Conference’s 30th anniversary in Vancouver. Skies Painted with Unnumbered Sparks spans 745 feet from roof of skyscraper over street, water, and pedestrian traffic. Studio collaborates with Aaron Koblin, Director of Google’s Creative Lab, to develop interactive lighting program. Echelman delivers second mainstage talk.
2014 Studio is selected to design an iconic sculpture to anchor the new Carolyn and Maurice LeBauer City Park in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina. Expected completion in Spring, 2016.