"Every time I do a certain thing I have the next one in my mind. It’s about a whole attitude," explains Tanja Pak, a fall 2001 Resident Fellow at the Creative Glass Center of America. The Slovenian glass artist conscientiously maintains an impeccable level of quality in her heavy schedule of international installations, exhibitions, and industrial design commissions.
But not everything can be planned. Pak didn’t plan to be a glass blower like her grandfather and uncles in the glass-making town of Rogaska Slatina. She didn’t even want to be a glass designer like her father, although she felt the pull of her family’s creativity. As a student, she chose the broad field of industrial design–deliberately avoiding a concentration on glass. Nevertheless, blood or tradition won out. Although it took nearly a decade of studying industrial design in the city of Ljubljana, Pak ultimately recognized that glass was destined to be central to her work as designer and artist.
After additional study at the Royal College of Art in London, a leading institution for today’s young artists, Pak returned to Slovenia to realize her own functional designs in factory production and to incorporate glass in ambitious multi media installations typically with an architectural orientation. Pak says she is the first artist to use cast glass as a large scale sculptural art material in Slovenia, an irony, she points out, since commercial glass production has been a major source of trade in Slovenia since sophisticated techniques of glass blowing were introduced by 17th century Venetians.
In 1998 Pak completed her first important group of large scale installations in medieval Ljubljana Castle. Her role as artist is largely conceptual and administrative, as she orchestrates the work of a variety of specialists. At the castle, Pak incorporated sound and lighting in works like Voyage, a row of glass rings traversing a 30 meter barrel vault and pierced by a blue laser beam which she describes as "a non material axis." At around $400 an hour, "the laser was very expensive," she says, "but I wanted blue and nothing else." For Pak, a certain kind of turquoise or, in glass, a copper blue has a magical quality. "It breathes," she says. "I wouldn’t use the word ‘spiritual’ but it’s different than any other color." She finds the darker cobalt blue, a much more common color in glass, "heavy and closed. It’s just not glass anymore."
While Voyage represented an "infinite journey," Always, a spiraling lighted column of three-sided flat cast crystal units, recapitulated the visitor’s journey, and perhaps life’s journey as well, while providing a static point at the end of the visitors’ movement through the exhibition.
"The exhibition is a path, Pak said, referring to all her installation work. "Not everyone gets the story, but I have to have that thread. I don’t care if people understand it. The viewer has the right to imagine. I don’t want to tell him what to think; I just want to move him into another dimension."
Another work at the castle, Fluid, is 40 square meters of lighted glass elements in a cave-like environment: clusters of milky cones of translucent glass that simultaneously resemble icy stalagmites and flames bending in the wind. These undulating verticals are punctuated by a broken spiraling path of copper blue rectangles, also lighted. This piece was chosen to remain as a permanent installation in the castle.
Pak likes to contrast the irregularity of natural elements with geometric forms. "I want the right proportion. Its about the contrast and the proportions." Trees (1999), an outdoor installation, consists of a group of tall branchless tree trunks, each with a vertical rectangular cut out framing a suspended cast glass tree branch. The window-like openings allow visual access through the branches and to the landscape and trees beyond. At CGCA, Pak cast glass branches for similar planned works.
She also developed elements intended for her next major installation, in a gothic church, a space she describes as "beautiful and demanding." She had already prepared for the solo exhibition by studying studied the lives of medieval monks associated with the church. After some thought, she decided to emphasize the soaring architecture by keeping her installation comparatively low. "I don’t want to compete with the architecture but to point out the height through contrast," she explains.
At CGCA Pak sand cast a series of large disks for this installation in blue and clear crystal. The profiles gently undulate, wider near the edges and thinner in the center. Circles she says are mythic "complete, the starting point and the end point." They contrast and echo spirals which suggest longing and movement toward a circle which is never completed.
Pak has mastered the skill of glass blowing, but the majority of her work is cast. Among her free-standing sculptures is a series of geometric flat rings composed of two half circles of different colors of glass with a circular central opening. Embrace, a symbol of the universal longing for wholeness, is one which Pak describes as "two halves looking for each other, almost touching, but they can’t touch." On one side, dark and clear surfaces fail to meet, separated by a small irregular barrier of air. "I wanted to have that tension: positive/negative, day/night; earth/sky," she says. Tension is almost a required element for a satisfying work of art. Absolute completion, absolute resolution leaves little for the viewer’s imagination and personal narrative. With her spiraling journeys and complex integration of light and sound, Pak invites the us into a rich, world which poses questions more definitively than answers, as it also offers a sense of harmonious resolution.