Artist Janet Echelman is best known for her whimsical net sculptures that have been installed across the globe, in Florida and locations in Europe. Her latest work, Current, now installed in Columbus, Ohio, is her first in the Midwest and her first to be hung over a street. The red-hued installation is suspended 126 feet above Gay and High Streets and conceived as reminder of the Columbus’s rich history.
Echelman works with a team of aeronautical and mechanical engineers, lighting designers, computer scientists, landscape architects, and fabricators to realize the massive installations. With each project, the team takes into account the unique climate, context, and wildlife of each site, to ensure the sculptures environmental impact is minimal and safe.
Current is no exception to this practice; its net openings are similar in size to vines and thickets found in the forests so that the work accommodates the local wildlife, in particular birds. As the sculpture is Echelman’s first permanent sculpture to be hung over a street, it required a few modifications based on this context: the 229 foot long soft fiber sculpture is constructed with a fiber that is 15 times stronger than steel by weight and 78 miles of twine that were intricately hand woven into more than 500,000 knots.
“As an artist, I follow nature,” Echelman said in a press release. “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.”
In accordance with Echelman’s attention to climate and context, the installation is permanent but seasonal. In winter months Current will “hibernate” to avoid ice accumulation, and will be redeployed when spring comes each year.
The sculpture itself derives its inspiration from the city’s history of innovation and light. Columbus was notably one of the first cities with illuminated gas arches and industry leader in electricity. These historical accounts are shown through the cloud-like abstractions that glow when darkness sets in. The red tones used in the work are reminiscent of the city’s original brick buildings, they transition into shades of blue, evocative of the nearby waterfront.
Current funded by developer and philanthropist Jeff Edwards, who supported the project then donated it to the Columbus Museum of Art, so that the institution may maintain the sculpture for its permanent collection. Edwards’s generous donation also establishes the installation as the largest private contribution to public art in the city’s history.
“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,” Edwards said. “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.”
The first installation of Current will be celebrated and opened to the public this Friday, June 9, to kick off of the Columbus Arts Festival. It will remain up until winter when its first hibernation will begin.