Janet Echelman sculpts at the scale of buildings and city blocks. Echelman’s work defies categorization, as it intersects Sculpture, Architecture, Urban Design, Material Science, Structural & Aeronautical Engineering, and Computer Science. Echelman’s art transforms with wind and light, shifting from “an object you look at, into an experience you get lost in.”
Using unlikely materials from atomized water particles to engineered fiber fifteen times stronger than steel, Echelman combines ancient craft with computational design software to create artworks that have become focal points for urban life on five continents, from Singapore, Sydney, Shanghai, and Santiago, to Beijing, Boston, New York and London.
Permanent works in Porto, Vancouver, San Francisco, West Hollywood, Phoenix, Eugene, Greensboro, Philadelphia, and Seattle transform daily with colored light. Curiosity defines Janet Echelman’s nonlinear educational path. After graduating from Harvard College, she lived in a Balinese village for 5 years, then completed separate graduate programs in Painting and in Psychology. A recipient of an honorary Doctorate from Tufts University, Echelman has taught at MIT, Harvard and Princeton Universities.
Her TED talk "Taking Imagination Seriously" has been translated into 35 languages with more than two million views. Recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship, Harvard Loeb Fellowship, Aspen Institute Henry Crown Fellowship, and Fulbright Sr. Lectureship, Echelman received the Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award in Visual Arts, honoring “the greatest innovators in America today.” In popular culture, Oprah ranked Echelman’s work #1 on her List of 50 Things That Make You Say Wow!, and Echelman was named an Architectural Digest Innovator for "changing the very essence of urban spaces."
Echelman first set out to be an artist after graduating from college. She travelled 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.
Promising to give painting exhibitions around the country on behalf of the US Embassy, Echelman shipped her special paints and equipment to Mahabalipuram, a fishing village famous for sculpture. The deadline for the shows arrived - but her paints did not. Echelman, inspired by the local materials and culture, began working with bronze casters in the village but soon found the material too heavy and expensive. Echelman walked along the beach daily, watching the fishermen bundling their nets into mounds on the sand. She'd seen it every day, but this time saw it differently - a new approach to sculpture, a way to make volumetric form without heavy, solid materials. Her first satisfying sculptures were hand-crafted in collaboration with those fishermen. Hoisting them onto poles, she discovered that their delicate surfaces revealed every ripple of wind in constantly changing patterns and she was mesmerized.
Today Echelman constructs net sculpture environments in cities around the world. Echelman’s studio is based in Boston, where she lives with her husband David Feldman and their two children.