Janet Echelman spent seven years as an Artist-in-Residence at Harvard. She left Harvard to go to India on a Fulbright lectureship with the intention of giving painting exhibitions around the country.
Although she arrived in Mahabalipuram, a fishing village in India, her paints did not. Without her paints, she needed to find another medium. First she tried working with bronze casters, but that was expensive and unwieldy. Then one night, she notice the fishnet the fishermen were bundling on the beaches, and that sparked her imagination.
She wondered “if nets could be a new approach to sculpture: a way to create volumetric form without heavy, solid material.” The works she’s created are ethereal and stunning, unlike anything I’ve seen before. I really want one!
but what if her paints HAD shown up?
Echelman was probably dismayed, to say the least, that her paints hadn’t made it to India. But she didn’t give up and go home. It didn’t stop her from doing what she’d come to India to do. She took the materials at hand and used them in a way they’d never been used before. Although she didn’t have her paints, she still had her imagination and her creative spirit.
Things hadn’t gone according to her plan. And it was a very good thing they didn’t because if they had, we wouldn’t have these gorgeous lacy sculptures to look at. It’s important to have a plan. But it’s equally important to not be so committed to the specifics of the plan that when things begin to fall apart, you fall apart, too.
Change. Adapt. Be flexible. Look around you. Create from what’s already there.
More views of the piece She Changes (above) can be seen on Echelman’s website, which also describes the materials used in this and other sculptures and their method of construction.
And you can listen to Echelman–and see slides of her work–in this TED talk called “Taking Imagination Seriously.”