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Pae White’s Qwalala

The American artist has used three thousand Veneto-made glass bricks to recreate the ebbs and flows of the Gualala river in California

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Text by Rab Messina

Despite the erosion caused by the Saint Andreas Fault, the river Gualala soldiers on, having fed the Pomo people —the indigenous inhabitants of the northern California area where it runs— who named it “where waters meet” due to its force and its many tributaries.

And for a commission at Le Stanze del Vetro in Venice, Pasadena-born Pae White recreated the body of water in Qwalala, using three thousand glass bricks —each one hand-cast by Poesia Glass Studio just outside Venice.

The seemingly simple structure is actually a feat of engineering, supported by a steel base and a special structural sealant —the design came from engineering firm schlaich bergermann partner, while the sealant came from Dow Corning.

Apart from being another exploration on how common materials can come together with cutting-edge technology, Qwalala would seem an evolution in White’s preferred topic of water and fluidity: about a decade ago, she started experimenting with cascading mobiles representing schools of fish and collections of ponds. With this large-scale outdoor sculpture in San Giorgio Maggiore, she’s allowing visitors to somehow walk through water —the monumental work has several human-sized openings for those who decide to go for a closer view. There’s a big payoff in that: half of the bricks are clear, but the other half captures in its interior swirling masses of 26 different colours. The blues, greens, pinks, greys and browns inside represent both the history of glassmaking —the process used during first-century Roman craft captured hues brought out by sulphur, copper and manganese— and the mineral richness of the earth around the Gualala.

But for those who want to explore it from another vantage point, the best is to go high: take the lift to the bell tower in the nearby Chiesa San Giorgio Maggiore to admire the full wild curving nature of the sculpture. Since Qwalala is 75 metres long and 2.4 metres tall, it’s one of the best ways to observe the work in its entirety.

The piece’s opening coincided with the Venice Art Biennale, but it is now also part of The Venice Glass Week (September 10-17), the first international event of its kind dedicated solely to the art of glassmaking.

Qwalala will be on display at Le Stanze del Vetro until November 30, 2018.

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Qwalala - Work in progress
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Pae White works with the sculpture's bricks
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Handling the bricks at Poesia Glass Studio
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The finished outdoor sculpture at Le Stanze del Vetro. Image by Enrico Fiorese.

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