“1.8 Renwick,” which is now in the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s permanent collection, will be taking up residence again in the Renwick’s second-floor Grand Salon, starting in April.
Echelman says she’s excited about the work’s reinstallation. “Maybe it’s like a chance to spend time with a beloved friend who rarely visits,” she wrote in an email. “Or for people who haven’t experienced the work before, [it’s] a chance to meet her.”
The piece is part of Echelman’s “Earthtime” series, which she started in 2010. “1.8 Renwick” was named for the number of microseconds by which the day was shortened when a single physical event — the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan, which led to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster — shifted the Earth’s mass.
“We think of a day as a fixed quantity,” Echelman says, “but the speed of Earth’s rotation is constantly shifting in response to physical phenomena.”
Echelman is an ambitious — and inspiring — artist. (Her popular 2011 TED talk, “Taking Imagination Seriously,” is worth watching.) She was discovered and encouraged by Robert Rauschenberg in Asia in the late 1980s. But it wasn’t until 1997 — inspired by the artful bundling of fishing nets in a seaside village in India — that Echelman abandoned painting and more conventional forms of sculpture and began working with nets and woven fabric.
These days her sculptures are worked up from pen and watercolor sketches and physical maquettes in string, wire, foam and wood into sophisticated digital models developed in collaboration with architects and engineers. Those are then fabricated in looming and braiding factories in Puget Sound, near Seattle.
“1.8 Renwick” uses about 50 miles of string and half a million knots.
Echelman says she loves “the wisdom in craft.” But she takes on daunting logistical challenges and eagerly embraces technology.
A crucial component of her work is the colored light she projects onto it. The projection is always changing, which means that a work like “1.8 Renwick” is “okay for a quick-see,” she says, “but [it’s] best to come with time . . . to take in the gradual changes of colored shadow drawing murals which slide across walls.”
Expect audiences to do that exactly that.
Echelman says she feels “a need to find moments of contemplation in the midst of daily city life.” She expects others feel similarly: “I love that the Renwick is free to everyone, and even if you have just a few minutes during your lunch break, you can come in and lie down on the soft carpet and look up at the intricate layers of knotted fiber and the projected shadow drawings. . . . If my art can create an oasis to contemplate the larger cycles of time and remind us to listen to our inner selves, that’s all I could ask.”
So: Bring your kids. Bring your loved ones. Make it a hot date. Or (maybe the best option?) come solo. Echelman says it takes 30 minutes to watch the entire cycle. The effects she achieves — not just at the Renwick, but also with sculptures that have appeared around the world, suspended between skyscrapers, over world-famous city squares, storied hotels and busy intersections — are captivating, calming and joyous.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that the exhibit runs through Aug. 14. It runs through Aug. 14, 2022.
Janet Echelman’s “1.8 Renwick” April 3-Aug. 14, 2022, at the Renwick Gallery. americanart.si.edu/visit/renwick.