Pre-thinking:

Janet Echelman found her true voice as an artist when her paints went missing — which forced her to look to an unorthodox new art material. Now she makes billowing, flowing, building-sized sculpture with a surprisingly geeky edge. A transporting 10 minutes of pure creativity.

Why you should listen:

Janet 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”, which spans two city blocks in downtown Phoenix, “Water Sky Garden”, which premiered for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, and “She Changes”, which transformed a waterfront plaza in Porto, Portugal. Her newest commission creates a “Zone of Recomposure” in the new Terminal 2 at San Francisco International Airport. Upcoming projects include the remaking of Dilworth Plaza in front of Philadelphia City Hall — turning it into a garden of dry-mist.

Who is she:

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.

Questions:

  1. How did the accidental loss of her paints send her artistry in a whole new and different direction? Are there other instances you can find of this happening to other artists, writers, or scientists?
  1. Make a sculpture using her methods and display it.
  1. How does she use science to aid in her artwork?
  1. She talked about people lying down under her sculpture to view it from a unique angle. Can you suggest other novel approaches to examine different forms of art? Try some and share the results.

Taking imagination seriously with Janet Echelman

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