Qwalala, a monumental new sculpture by American artist Pae White, is on view on the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice. It is the second outdoor installation (following Hiroshi Sugimotos Glass Tea House Mondrian) to be commissioned by Le Stanze del Vetro
Qwalala consists of a curving wall made only of solid glass-bricks, which occupies the entire area opposite Le Stanze del Vetro. At 75 metres long and 2.4 metres high, the thousands of glass bricks for Qwalala were hand-cast by Poesia Glass Studio in the Veneto region. Each of these hand-cast bricks is unique, owing much to chance and variation inherent in the artisanal manufacturing process.
Approximately half of the bricks are made of clear glass. The other half span a palette of 26 colours, and are made using a technique where each brick contains a storm-like effect of swirling colour, while remaining transparent. For this project, the individual bricks present the idea of modules of contained chaos. The artist combines these bricks to form an abstract, painterly pattern when viewed from afar, which, upon closer inspection, reveals unexpected worlds of detail. The muted blues, greens, pinks, greys and browns of the palette are drawn from colours used in first century Roman glassmaking created by the presence of sulphur, copper, manganese, and other metals and minerals.
Pae White studied the flow of the site and the multiple points of view it offers, not only from ground level, but also from the tower of San Giorgio Maggiore as well as how it might appear on Google Maps, nestled between the marina and the Borges Labyrinth. She selected the path of the wall from thousands of computer-generated designs processed through randomisation software created specifically for this project. The two openings in the wall were inspired by the engineering simplicity observed during a recent visit to Mayan ruins in Mexico, suggesting that, even in todays political climate, walls can be both transparent and permeable, connecting people rather than keeping them apart.
The title of the piece, Qwalala, is a Native American Pomo word meaning coming down water place. It references the meandering flow of the Gualala river in Northern California, which the work echoes in both its structure and layout. The walls ever-shifting play of light, recalls the way in which the colour and temperature of the river water changes minute to minute as it meets the Pacific Ocean. Additionally, the name Qwalala itself, rolling off the tongue, also mimics the visceral experience of the body as it journeys around and through the curves of the wall.
Pae White has a long standing interest in glass and its potential as a building material merging the idea of chaos and the elusive with practicality. The bricks and construction methods used for Qwalala are the result of long and exhaustive research into the material and its functionality for construction. Seemingly simple in its form, the wall is a complex feat of engineering that has been made possible due to the structural analysis and design of leading engineering firm schlaich bergermann partner. It is supported by a steel base and a special structural sealant provided by Dow Corning. Qwalala bears witness to Pae Whites interest in combining common materials with cutting-edge technology, traditional craftsmanship with advanced engineering, and employing industrial manufacturing to challenge the limits of each of these. The result can be understood as both a sculpture that is evocative of architecture and architecture that is evocative of sculpture.