Janet Echelman, a 2011 Guggenheim Fellow, has worked with NASA, Autodesk and mechanical engineering and computer modeling companies to create her technologically generated signature netlike sculptures that float peacefully (some have said sublimely) over publicly trafficked urban spaces in nearly 20 metropolitan areas across the globe. Animated with such natural forces as wind, rain and sunlight, her dynamic sculptures are realized through the highly interdisciplinary effort of her studio, mechanical engineers, software designers, architects and urban planners.
Echelman has collaborated specifically with Autodesk, a company that has been developing a tool that enables her to design textile nets and exert the forces of gravity and wind on them. On the collaboration, she explains: "'[C]omputer-aided' design has been around for about 30 years, but it seems that it used to be just about computers aiding documentation after designing was done. With this new tool, the computer is giving me feedback in real time that informs my design decisions."
Recently, Echelman used topographical laboratory data from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to spatially realize an artistic rendering of 2-D representations of the 2010 Chile Earthquake. During the event, which measured a 8.8 on the Richter scale and lasted for over 90 seconds, rapid movement of the ocean floor generated a tsunami that affected the eastern half of the Pacific Ocean. Scientists with the NOAA used data from a network of specialized ocean buoys to generate a map illustrating increased wave amplitude resulting from the earthquake. This map served as the initial form generator for the sculpture. An outline, created by isolating the area from the NOAA map most affected by the tsunami, was extruded downward, cinched at the center, and subjected to gravity forces. Effectively, Echelman translated the tsunami’s numerical data into public space, memorializing the tragic event through its specific empirical attributes.
This lecture is sponsored by the Corliss Lamont Lectureship for a Peaceful World; the Georges Lurcy Lecture Series at Amherst; the Programs in Architectural Studies, European Studies and Sexuality, Women and Gender Studies; the Department of Mathematics at Amherst College; and the Spiro Fund at Mount Holyoke College.