1.26 Denver

Artist: Janet Echelman
Location: Denver, Colorado, USA
Year of completion: 2010
Researcher: Jacqueline White

The Denver Office of Cultural Affairs’ Public Art Program commissioned Janet Echelman to create a temporary public art installation to celebrate the inaugural Biennial of the Americas, an international art, ideas, and culture festival hosted in Denver. To explore the theme of interconnectedness among the 35 nations that make up the Western Hemisphere, Echelman drew inspiration from an announcement by the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory that, by slightly redistributing the earth’s mass, the February 2010 earthquake in Chile had shortened the earth’s day by 1.26 microseconds. A computer-generated simulation by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the earthquake’s ensuing tsunami rippling across the Pacific became the basis for her sculptural form.

Echelman, a self-taught sculptor who has graduate degrees in painting and psychology, is known for monumental knotted mesh aerial forms, originally inspired by massive fishing nets she encountered in India on a Fulbright Lectureship. She seeks to bring attention to spaces that are typically unseen in cityscapes, like the areas above and between buildings.

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However, the temporary nature of the Denver installation, as well as the complexity of the tsunami shape, precluded the artist’s use of the steel armature she’d previously used to support her gigantic mesh forms, which need to permanently withstand high winds, as well as plenty of snow and ice.

Realizing that instead of a steel skeleton, she would need to use a soft grid to recreate the tsunami geometry, Echelman looked to nature for models and learned that spiders employ a stronger silk to lay out the structure of their webs and a thinner, lighter silk for the connecting strands. New developments in fiber technology allowed Echelman to fully realize her vision, using the new Spectra® fiber, a material 15 times stronger than steel by weight, to create the support matrix and choosing other fibers based on color, fluidity, and cost for the other strands. The low-impact, super-lightweight design also made it possible to temporarily attach the sculpture directly to the façade of buildings.

Suspended from the roof of the seven-story Denver Art Museum above downtown street traffic, the undulating forms of 1.26 Denver brought softness into a hard-edged urban landscape. Engineered to imitate the intricacy of handmade lace, the billowing shape, animated by the wind, evoked awe, introducing the possibility of reverence into the daily bustle of city life. At night, darkness concealed the support cables while colored lighting illuminated a floating luminous form.

The monumental aerial sculpture debuted on July 6, 2010 and was originally scheduled for removal on July 31. However, its exhibition was extended another week to provide the public additional viewing time.

1.26 has also served as a sort of global ambassador, connecting continents through a shared artistic experience. After its display in Denver, 1.26 traveled to Australia in 2011, where it was suspended from Sydney Town Hall. Then, from December 2012 through January 2013, 1.26 visited a third continent, where it was installed over the Amstel River in the Netherlands as the signature project of the Amsterdam Light Festival. The lighting program of undulating colors was reflected on the water below in the signature canals of the city.

All copyright belongs to Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts, Shanghai University.

Progress Agency