8 fascinating facts about 1.26

June 9, 2015

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If you’ve been anywhere near Place Émilie-Gamelin lately, you’ve seen the impressive artwork floating over the square. Titled 1.26, the enormous net sculpture is the work of American artist Janet Echelman, and it’s the centrepiece of the space’s temporary configuration, Les Jardins Gamelin. Swaying in the breeze, by night it becomes a luminous aerial object. After it was displayed in Denver, Sydney, Amsterdam and Singapore, the Quartier des Spectacles Partnership invited the artist to install the work in Montreal, where it will keep delighting visitors and passers by until October 4.

Janet Echelman spoke to us about her work, and Mikaël Charpin, the manager of the Luminous Pathway in the Quartier des Spectacles, revealed the challenges and secrets of its installation and illumination.

What does the name 1.26 mean?

“With this work, I wanted to show that we are all interconnected. I was inspired by the impact of seismic shocks on the entire planet,” Ms. Echelman explains. “The title is a reference to the effects of the earthquake in Chile in 2010, which shortened the length of the day by 1.26 microseconds. The shape and motion of the net refer to the height of the tsunami waves caused by the quake. The forces of nature influence all my work,” she added.

What is the net made of?

1.26 is made from flexible polyethylene fibres, a very tough material that allows the net to survive strong winds. The structure is covered with thin, dyed polyester threads that give the work colour.

Why was Place Émilie-Gamelin chosen to display the work?

“We studied a few different locations in the Quartier des Spectacles before settling on Place Émilie-Gamelin as the best place to display the work, for both aesthetic and logistical reasons,” Mr. Charpin says. “And Ms. Echelman was delighted with the choice of site.” As she says, “I love seeing my work suspended over this green space, completely revitalized by the Jardins Gamelin project. Because my work is about change, I am touched to see how the space has been transformed.”

Engineering challenges

To install the suspended sculpture, the Quartier des Spectacles Partnership’s operations team had to anchor the work to buildings overlooking Place Émilie-Gamelin. “The distance between the buildings where the five anchor points are located – the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) and Place Dupuis – is 450 feet. The anchoring span for l.26 in Montreal is much larger than in other places it has been displayed, which led to major installation challenges,” says Mr. Charpin, calling the project the most complex he has supervised in recent years. Although the net is relatively light (700 lb.), the 1,800 feet of cabling strung over the trees surrounding the park need to support loads of up to 4,000 lb. Before starting installation, the Quartier des Spectacles team worked with a structural engineering firm to precisely calculate the technical requirements for supporting the work, which hangs around 35 feet above the ground. “The net is attached to a very specific type of rigging, made of material 10 times stronger than steel of the same weight. With steel cables, the total weight would all have been too heavy to be suspended. We also had to account for wind, rain and safe anchoring,” he adds.

A team effort

Janet Echelman has her own team of designers, artisans, computer scientists and aeronautical, mechanical and lighting engineers. “I compare public art to a sports team,” she explains. “Strength in numbers allows me to take my work to another level. I learn from everyone. Nature is also an essential component of my work. The wind and other elements give life to the sculpture, beyond my control. I love that uncontrolled aspect, because it adds something much larger than anything I could create.”

It took several nights of work to install and illuminate the work, with the help of a crane and two cherry pickers, and the crew working on a tight deadline. “The partners bordering Place Émilie-Gamelin were all very helpful in the installation of this collaborative project, particularly UQÀM and Busac, the owner and manager of Place Dupuis,” Mr. Charpin notes.

Double lighting

It was the Quartier des Spectacles Partnership team that took on the task of lighting 1.26. “In order to stay true to Janet Eichelman’s work, parts of which are already coloured, we opted for very soft monochromatic lighting that very slowly changes colour,” Mr. Charpin explains. The illumination of 1.26 is synchronized with that of the sculptures and waterfalls of the work by Melvin Charney, located on the grassy part of Place Émile-Gamelin, a lighting project that was created by the Quartier des Spectacles Partnership and the borough of Ville-Marie for the work’s 20th anniversary in 2012.

A work integrated with the urban fabric

1.26 meshes perfectly with Montreal’s urban fabric,” says Ms. Echelman. “With our fast-paced lives, I hope people will spend time underneath the sculpture and take a moment to contemplate the changing weather.” If reactions so far are any indication, the work is a success. “It’s very gratifying to see just how huge the work is,” Mr. Charpin remarks. “Day and night, people are impressed by this enormous floating object, so they stop to take a photo.”

Similar works in the future?

1.26 is a perfect fit with the mandate of the Quartier des Spectacles Partnership, which includes presenting innovative and ephemeral public art,” Mr. Charpin notes. “No doubt there will be other challenges in the coming years as we work to present other luminous projects.”


Technical info
Dimensions: 80ʹ x 60ʹ x 30ʹ
Weight: 700 lb
5 anchor points

Total span between anchor points: 450 ft
Length of cables used for hanging the work: 1800 ft
Tension of main cables: 2000 to 4000 lb


Place Émilie-Gamelin, Quartier des Spectacles
Until October 4