Research point | Artist | Janet Echelman

The second textile artist I want to research is also someone who would probably not define herself as a textile artist. I have been interested in Janet Echelman’s practice for a while but didn’t really connect her with textiles until her association with the Love Lace exhibition at the Powerhouse Museum, which I wrote about some time ago.

As I continue to develop my practice and my interest in, and knowledge of, textile art I’m realising what a huge world it is (I know, der!), and also noticing that many artists that I like (Louise Bourgeois, Tracey Emin, Eva Hesse, Ann Hamilton, El Anatsui, my first researched artist Cecilia Vicuña…) have used textiles in some way – techniques, media etc. The other thing I’m noticing is that I’m drawn to large-scale textile works in public spaces. I started a Pinterest board to collect them.

I first came across Janet Echelman via her 2011 TEDTalk Taking Imagination Seriously (back when they were interesting – I’ve calculated that by 2020 every single person in the world will have presented at TED). In the talk she explained how a mishap caused her to transform her practice. Visiting India on a Fulbright scholarship, her paints failed to arrive. She was committed to producing work and looked around her for inspiration, finding it in the fishing nets being repaired on the beach. her first sculptures were created in collaboration with the local fishermen and suspended on the beach, where their form and gentle movement fascinated her.

I will look in more detail at three Echelman works I feel I have a relationship with.

Firstly She Changes, Oporto, 2005 – a monumental 45 metre wide, 25 metre deep net that has become the symbol of the city. When I was in Portugal a few years ago I made a trip to Oporto specifically to see the work. It sits over a giant roundabout that is the pivot point of the Manuel Sola Morales redesign of the waterfront, and has been sited in such a way that it can be seen for over a kilometre in all directions. It was Echelman’s first mayor public commission, and aside from it’s huge size, it also had to withstand high winds and salty air. As Echelman explains in her talk, the work took over three years to create, and development involved a great deal of research into materials, tech niches, process and engineering. The result is lovely – I don’t think photographs do it full justice, as part of the beauty is seeing how this massive form responds to the wind.



The second work is Tsunami 1.26, Sydney 2011. This is a commission that I had some marginal involvement in through my work, and was able to meet the artist. It was a temporary installation associated with the Love Lace exhibition at the Powerhouse Museum and presented as a temporary public art work during the City of Sydney’s Art & About Festival. The work was inspired by the tsunami caused by the 2010 earthquake in Chile, which redistributed the earth’s mass and caused a 1.26 microsecond shortening of the day. The work encourages people to think about global systems and the “larger fabric of which they are a part”. For Sydney, then starting to embark on a massive public transport project that will radically improve the pedestrian experience of the city, Tsunami 1.26 was a symbol of transformation, and a way of thinking differently about urban space.

Photo City of Sydney

Photo City of Sydney

Finally, the recent work Skies Painted with Unnumbered Sparks, Vancouver 2014. My involvement with this work was to contribute to its funding through a Kickstarter campaign. I’m interested in crowd funding and thought supporting this project would be a good way to be somehow involved, and at the same time acquire art work by an artist I admire. The artwork was also a collaborative project (with Google’s Creative Lab), and the net became a canvas for public interaction via an app.

Photo from

Photo from

There’s a lot that I like about Echelman’s work – the huge size combined with delicacy, the way it responds to the environment and the way it creates a sense of delight and invites people to experience space in a new way. With each project, Echelman pushes new boundaries and demonstrates thoroughness, an ability to collaborate, and determination. I’ve been reading about “grit” lately, and how it relates to achieving goals. I’m interested in the fact that Echelman was rejected by all the art schools she applied for, and persevered in developing an art practice regardless, and that – even though her work is consistent and develops within its own framework – each new commission opens the door to a huge amount of work, development and invention.








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