I first discovered the work of Janet Echleman in 2015 when I read about her 'knitted' artwork suspended over Boston's Rose Kennedy Greenway. The 600-foot sculpture, woven from nylon and polyethylene cables featured over half a million knots. And while the somewhat angular piece had a sense of tension and human engineering to it, when viewed in reality (on in film) you can see a delicate sense of motion as the sculpture comes to life; ebbing and flowing with the natural wind.
I was lucky enough to see one of her pieces first hand a few years ago. Entitled 1.8, the comparingly modest 100ft long sculpture was suspended over the junction between Oxford and Regent Street in the heart of London's west end - a hive of activity with more shoppers than any other street in Britain. It was suspended here as part of the Lumiere Light show before being exhibited in San Diego, Mexico City, and Beijing. While much smaller than the piece in Boston, 1.8 still elegantly rippled and flowed with the ever-changing winds. It felt alive; like attending a performance choreographed by the natural elements. It invited passers-by on the busy street beneath to pause and admire its magnificence. It felt pure compared to the grubby stone buildings or the grey road it floats above.
As the artist writes, a synergy with the natural world is deep-rooted into the thinking and construction of the piece. "The work's title is 1.8, referring to the length of time in microseconds that the earth's day was shortened as a result of a single physical event, the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that emanated from Japan. The sculpture's form was inspired by data sets of the tsunami's wave heights rippling across the entire Pacific Ocean."
As with many of Echlemans other works of art, it's after the sun sets when 1.8 really come into its own. Through vivid LED's integrated and projected onto the woven mesh-like structure, the piece is illuminated in meandering hues of electric pink, blue and orange. This striking lighting design, coupled with the natural rippling effect of the wind; created a visual feast that was mesmerising to observe. The saturated colours greatly contrasted the dark sky emitting a sense of wonder reminiscent of the northern lights.
Perhaps I find Echleman's work so wonderous because it exudes a living breathing soul. From the distance of the viewer, any construction knots are unperceivable so it feels like a natural organism, growing and adapting to its surroundings. But the art is deceptively engineered. It's constructed from technical fibres that are 15 times stronger than steel by weight, yet the artwork emits a sense of grace and fragility, much like the silk of a spiders web. The versatile material perfectly balances strength with flexibility.
The sheer scale and perceived delicacy create a sense of calm, and much like the ever-changing clouds, the piece shifts and with natural elements. And I think it's both that harmony and contrast with the surroundings that make Janet Echelman's work so beautifully elegant. Amongst the backdrop of stark architecture and sprawling urban metropolises, her work weaves it's way into the built environment and exposes larger than life organic forms. It feels natural. Part of our world. Through the poetry of shape and motion, any indication that this is a human-made engineering marvel fades away like a morning fog, and her art becomes a graceful dance with the elements.