Janet Echelman’s mammoth sculptures are constructed from neither marble, nor stone. They are fluid, iridescent cloud-like masses fabricated primarily of hand-spliced rope and knotting twine. Her new piece “As If It Were Already Here” was installed earlier this month near Boston’s waterfront. Commissioned by the city’s Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway Conservancy, the complex arrangement of rope and nodes spans approximately half an acre and is suspended from adjacent buildings at a height of 600 feet, directly above the Greenway’s pedestrian park. “Here in Boston,” Echelman writes, “I’m excited to visually knit together the fabric of the city with art.” Emphasizing vision, tactility, and civic engagement, “As If It Were Already Here” honors the creation of the Greenway as “a seminal event in the unfolding of the city” for Echelman.
A graduate of Bard College, Echelman has visited several countries to pursue teaching opportunities and design municipal art installations. After seven years as an Artist-in-Residence at Harvard University, she traveled to India in the mid-90s on a Fulbright scholarship to lecture and stage painting exhibitions. Once there, Echelman, inspired by the local trade in the small fishing village of Mahabalipuram, turned to learn netting craft of the fishermen. What resulted was a series of netted sculptures produced in collaboration with the fishermen and completely supported by the Fulbright budget. To date, this method of interlacing rope and twine in order to create suspended, netted sculptures that sway at the mercy of wind has engendered other projects with aeronautical engineers, landscape architects, and lighting designers. These efforts have also brought her many accolades, such as a Guggenheim Fellowship, the 2012 Architectural Digest Innovator Award, and the 2014 Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award for Visual Arts.
Though “As If It Were Already Here” is similar in scope to Echelman’s former projects (“Her Secret is Patience” produced in Phoenix, Arizona and “She Changes” in Porto, Portugal), subtleties abound in its situational resonance in Boston’s Greenway. “The form of ‘As If It Were Already Here’ echoes the history of its location,” Echelman states. “The three voids recall the ‘Tri-Mountain’ which was razed in the 18th-century to create land from the harbor. The colored banding is a nod to the six traffic lanes that once overwhelmed the neighborhood, before the Big Dig buried them and enabled the space to be reclaimed for urban pedestrian life.” Subject to movement from wind patterns, sensors around the sculpture’s site register fiber movement and tension which direct the color of light projected onto the sculpture’s surface. One has the opportunity to move freely in and around this sculpture environment “that shifts from being an object you look at, to something you can get lost in.” Her sculpture installation will remain on view through October.