Janet Echelman's fishnet-inspired sculpture hangs again above Jardins Gamelin

The American artist says Montreal is the only place she’s allowed the sculpture to be installed two years in a row. “It feels like home to this sculpture," Janet Echelman says.

Artist hopes cloud-like sculpture creates sense of calm, contemplation at once-scarred downtown square

The floating sculpture, illuminated at night, is made from millions of hand-tied knots using the same techniques that fishermen in India use to tie their nets. (Jeanette Kelly/CBC)

Sculptor Janet Echelman is delighted her colourful net sculpture, 1.26 Montreal, is hanging once again in Montreal.

"It feels like home to this sculpture. It fits between the buildings like a cloud," Echelman said.

The sculpture was part of the Quartier des spectacles redesign project at Place Émilie-Gamelin last year.

Traditionally a hangout for the homeless and the starting point for many of the city's protests and demonstrations, the park got a makeover last year that included public garden boxes to grow herbs and vegetables, a pop-up restaurant, a stage for lunchtime and evening performances and new red chairs for the grass.

1.26 Montreal hangs above the space, changing shape with the breeze and forming  a swirl of colour in the night-time sky.

Inspired by Indian fishermen

Echelman's work is highly technical, involving 3D modelling and innovative textiles, but her inspiration comes from a chance encounter at a fishing village in India.

While waiting for painting supplies to arrive, she started to work with the local fishermen – learning to tie their knots and creating her first sculptures.

Now scaled to the size of cities, the pieces are built using ultra-high, molecular-weight polyethylene. which Echelman says looks delicate but is immensely strong.

She says when the piece was installed first in 2010 for the Biennale of the Americas in Denver, the area was hit by a microstorm.

"The steel light post in front of sculpture fell over but the sculpture was completely unscathed," she said.

Art for everybody

Since then Echelman has devoted her practice to creating similar pieces for public art.

"It's so exciting to be part of the transformation of a city. It's the highest dream I could have for my art: to be part of a process of transformation."

Science and art

The title, 1.26, is inspired by the 2010 earthquake in Chile.

Echelman had been asked to create a piece about the interconnectedness of nations for the Biennale of the Americas in Denver, and the Chilean earthquake was in the news.

"Animations of the tsunami and how it rippled across the ocean showed how an event in one part of the world had a physical, readable effect in another part."

"Then I read that a space scientist from NASA, Richard Gross, wrote that the Earth's day shortened as a result of that one physical event, and he measured it at 1.26 microseconds."

Even time – my day, your day – was shifted by something that happened in another part of the world.- artist Janet Echelman

"I thought you could never escape the passage of time. You know death and taxes! Time marches forward. But yet, here it was, the day was shortened," she said.

"That became a real metaphor for me. Even time – my day, your day – was shifted by something that happened in another part of the world."

Listen to Janet Echelman in conversation with Jeanette Kelly on Cinq à six on CBC Radio One across the stations of the Quebec Community Network, at 5 p.m. ET on Saturday, May 14.