Upon her return to the United States, Echelman began creating large scale net sculptures that respond and react to their urban environment. Echelman begins her process by doing some hand drawn sketches of ideas for sculptures that could be placed in the desired location. Once she has settled on a basic design, she then enters the project into a 3-D modeling software called Autodesk. This program models the weight of the netting and supports while also modeling how the sculptures will respond to wind and weather. Because of the nature of the locals where these sculptures are placed, she has adapted her original method of using hand tied cotton nets to a wide variety of synthetic materials and machine tied netting. Like a spider weaving a web, Echelman combines different types of rope in different parts of her sculptures in order to best respond to the local atmospheric conditions of her installations.
Using these unusual materials and high tech techniques, Echelman creates a new variety of 4-D sculpture that responds to its changing environment, encouraging the viewer to slow down and enjoy a moment watching the sculptures move in the wind. Often times, especially at night, she will light her sculptures using colored flood lights, creating another slowly changing element to her work. While I was in Washington, DC earlier this year, I had the opportunity to see her piece 1.8 installed at the Renwick Gallery. While this piece did not benefit from the wind because it is indoors, Echelman did create a constantly changing piece by changing the lighting from pink to purple to yellow throughout the day. The gallery was laid out in a way that encouraged people to lie down and look up at the sculpture, thus actively inviting them to participate in the piece. I think this is what is so intriguing about Echelman's work is her way of truly engaging her audience.
For more information on the work of Janet Echelman, please visit the following websites.