Janet Echelman combines artistry and engineering in colossal floating sculpture

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Janet Echelman combines artistry and engineering in colossal floating sculpture
'Current', new project by Janet Echelman.

COLUMBUS, OHIO.- A monumental work of art by internationally recognized sculptor Janet Echelman has transformed the skyline of Columbus, Ohio. A marvel of engineering and artistry, Current floats above a major downtown intersection, suspended 126 feet in the air at its highest point. The sculpture will be introduced to the public on June 9 at a community celebration. Developer and philanthropist Jeff Edwards funded the project and donated the work to the Columbus Museum of Art, who will oversee care and maintenance of the sculpture as part of its permanent collection.

Constructed with an engineered fiber that is 15 times stronger than steel by weight, the 229-foot-long soft fiber sculpture was made with 78 miles of twine and intricately handwoven into more than 500,000 knots. Current is Echelman’s first permanent installation to be suspended over a street and her first in the Midwest.

“Current exemplifies the best of Columbus, public and private coming together to tell a history of our past and project where we’re headed in the future,” said Mayor Andrew J. Ginther, City of Columbus. “One of the wonderful parts about Columbus is the people and their commitment to creating thriving communities. We believe strongly that public art can enrich and improve the quality of life in neighborhoods throughout our city.”

Renowned for creating colossal sculptures at the intersection of art, architecture, urban design, science and engineering, Echelman sculpts at the scale of buildings and city blocks. She leads a global design team of aeronautical and mechanical engineers, lighting designers, computer scientists, landscape architects and fabricators. Her studio designs projects according to the climate and intended lifespan for each site and context. Current was created as a seasonal work with a period of hibernation each winter when the sculpture is deinstalled to avoid ice accumulation, followed by a celebratory reinstallation each spring.

Wildlife safety is integral to Echelman’s planning process. Studio Echelman consults with a bio-engineering firm to ensure that the qualities of her sculptures are safe for birds and other wildlife. The net openings in Current are similar to naturally occurring vines and thickets often found in forests. No bird or creature has ever been harmed in one of Echelman’s works. She has created more than 50 installations that have become focal points for urban life on five continents, from Singapore, Sydney, Shanghai and Santiago to New York and London. Her permanent art commissions draw millions of annual visitors in California, Washington, Oregon, Arizona, North Carolina, Florida, British Columbia (Canada) and Oporto (Portugal).

“As an artist, I follow nature,” said Echelman. “With Current, we’re thinking about the larger currents of human habitation and nature together in this place. This work is about the city that we are building together—a tapestry for the current moment.”

Rooted in Columbus’ history, the installation was inspired by the city’s longtime role as a place of innovation and light. An early adopter of street arches illuminated by gas lighting, Columbus was later known as an industry leader in electricity. Echelman harmoniously weaved together threads of new and nostalgic to visualize the city’s evolution, choosing red to symbolize the city’s earliest brick buildings. Current gradually transitions to blue as it leads visitors toward the vibrant riverfront park. The cloudlike abstraction will glow after dark in a dramatic nighttime illumination.

Through Edwards’ donation, Current represents the largest private contribution to public art in the history of Columbus. The sculpture is part of a long-term plan to revitalize the downtown corridor by seamlessly integrating art into the neighborhood, creating an inspiring experience for visitors and residents of the burgeoning cultural district. Edwards is also funding maintenance, deinstallation and reinstallation annually, ensuring Current will continue to inspire wonder far into the future.

“Our family has been in the real estate development business here in Columbus for many decades. We thought it was important to give back to the community that we all love so much and have been a part of for so long,” said Edwards. “This gigantic, wonderful piece of iconic public art from Janet Echelman will mark this very special spot in the city, where all citizens of Columbus can enjoy it.”  

Janet Echelman has transformed urban environments on five continents through significant artworks that defy categorization, using unlikely materials from atomized water particles to engineered fiber 15 times stronger than steel by weight. Echelman lived in a Balinese village for five years after graduating from Harvard College. She then completed separate graduate programs in painting and psychology. She has taught at MIT, Harvard and Princeton Universities and received an honorary doctorate from Tufts University.

Echelman’s TED talk "Taking Imagination Seriously" has been translated into 35 languages with more than two million views. Echelman is a recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship, Harvard Loeb Fellowship, Aspen Institute Henry Crown Fellowship and Fulbright Sr. Lectureship. She also 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 the artist was named an Architectural Digest Innovator for "changing the very essence of urban spaces."

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