Describe your work in 3 words.
Voluptuous, ethereal, monumental.
When and why did you decided to become an artist?
After college. It was not that anyone saw unusual talent, because no one did. In fact, my art professor at Harvard recommended that I not pursue a career as an artist. My student work really wasn’t very good. It’s just that I had a strong desire and I would never give up.
You got you idea of creating sculptures made of fish net by looking at the fisherman in India. do you think if you haven’t travelled to India your artwork would be different right now?
Absolutely. If I had been somewhere else, I would have sought inspiration in whatever was around me, and I can’t imagine where that alternate trajectory might have taken me.
How is the process of creating one of your pieces and long does it take you to finish?
Each project is different, and is individually developed according to the history and culture and physical constraints of the site. An urban project with monumental netted forms usually takes two or three years from conceptual design to fabrication and installation. My new work for Philadelphia with moving curtains of mist and light will be a little more than two years from start to finish.
Do the surroundings of where your artwork is placed influence the project?
Your piece 1.26” was inspired by the earthquake in Chile and the Tsunami that ripped across the entire pacific ocean. where do you usually get your inspiration to create the sculptures?
There is no usual. This is what keeps it fresh for me, what makes me want to wake up in the morning and get into the studio to chart new territory.
Do you think your artwork could potentially be used to raise awareness about global warming and environmental problems in our planet?
I see my artwork as a catalyst for contemplative experience. I never want it to be dogmatic. My work could open up a place to contemplate issues about our changing environment, but I want to leave it open to the viewer to make meaning of it.
Did you ever think of integrating the fishing net or fibres with any other materials?
We’ve been experimenting with fibres that generate energy and also light.
And How have you overcome it?
You know the story about how to eat an elephant... (One bite at a time)
You were approached to create one of your pieces for Times Square in NYC, if you could create a project anywhere in the world, where and how would it be?
I am interested in so many spaces in the world, but particularly places where people have a set of expectations that I can play with. For example, I have proposed a challenging work on the glass pyramid of the Louvre Museum in Paris.
"If I had limited myself to painting, you probably wouldn’t
be interviewing me right now"
You describe your art work as “a new approach to sculpture, a way to do volumetric forms without heavy solid materials.” do you know if anyone has tried this before and has been inspired by your technique since you started doing these sculptures?
I don’t know. I met with Frank Gehry at his office in Los Angeles, and he said he’d never seen anything like them, and he would probably know. More recently, I have been receiving some emails with images of works that seem to be building on our work. I think this is the highest compliment, and a privilege to play a part in a larger cultural dialogue.
One of your projects is to create sculptures with tiny water particles shaped by the wind or even by people in the Philadelphia City Hall. It is a technique quite different to what we are used to seeing from you – what made you take part in it?
Yes, it is different. I thought this site called for a different material approach, based on its history of water (the city’s first waterworks, the hub of the Pennsylvania railroad when trains ran on steam). So I wanted to sculpt with moving curtains of pure mist, and colored light.
You mentioned you applied to 7 art schools and was rejected by all 7. what do you think it takes to become a real artist?
The desire to engage in developing a vision, the tenacity to stick with it, and the humility to be willing to adapt. I was a painter for more than a decade before I discovered sculpting. I loved my paintings, but they did not chart new territory. If I had limited myself to painting, you probably wouldn’t be interviewing me right now.
You had some tough moments in you career. Did you ever go through self-doubt?
I still do. All the time. It’s not like the creative challenges get any easier. When I took on the Denver or the Philadelphia commissions recently, it was agonizing to have no idea where I would go.
"I see my artwork as a catalyst for
Or thought maybe art wasn't for you?
Never. There were times I couldn’t earn my living making art, and times I didn’t think my work was good enough (everyday), but I never thought I’d stop making it. I love making art and the fact that there is no separation between my inner life and my professional life.
YOU DESCRIBE YOUR CAREER AS "TAKING IMAGINATION SERIOUSLY" WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO EMERGING ARTISTS IN THE INDUSTRY?
To learn and to hear your own inner voice, and to develop a relationship with it- it is your greatest resource. Give everything you can to grow, develop and nurture it.
What has been your greatest achievement so far?
Whatever is about to happen tomorrow.
What is your ultimate goal?
To engage in new creative challenges perhaps, I hope for more and more opportunity to impact people’s everyday life in cities. I’m really committed to interacting with all sorts of people in the midst of their everyday life, becoming a catalyst for shared experience in public space.
Do you have any IDOLs?
So many. One of the people I most admire is Gandhi, how he had a vision for something that seemed so impossible, yet held fast until it became reality. And artists... I admire the architects and engineers who built Rome two thousand years ago. I admire Henri Matisse, because when he was being treated for cancer in his seventies and confined to bed, he started a whole new body of artwork with the paper cut series.
I hope to be discovering new things at that stage of life. I admire Elizabeth Murray, who made such incredible paintings while raising three children. My husband (David Feldman) and I have two children, and we constantly wish we had more hours in a day to devote to them. They are a great joy.
Interview: Bianca Spada
Images: Courtesy Studio Echelman