Thursday July 5, 2018 | by Olivia Ryder

CONVERSATION: Tanja Pak wants you to think about breathing (hers and yours)

Conscious breathing seem like a trendy idea, but it goes back centuries as an aspect of religious practice of many faiths. It is also the subject of a new body of work by Slovenian artist and University of Ljubljana fine-art professor Tanja Pak. An artist committed to sculpture, the design of beautiful glass objects, and the architecture of meditative spatial installations, Pak employs her breath to create objects that invite contemplation and self-awareness. For her exhibition curated by Nataša Ivanović, "The Breath in Between," on view at gallery TR3 in Ljubljana through October 2018, Pak presents a grouping of dimpled white glass forms that bear evidence of their previous state as temporarily liquid hot glass. In these poignant organic shapes that seem to huddle together, Pak seeks to document that meditative moment in between breaths. The gently collapsing glass shapes can be seen as a reference to lungs in mid-exhale. Pak also works in photography and poetry which help to elucidate and expand upon the ideas she eloquently evokes through the translucent glass. 

The centerpiece of the exhibit are 11 tinted white glass forms which share a sand-covered table as a platform. Adjacent is another blown-glass work titled Longing / Congé. These works present, through material, light, and the distinctive formation of glass, the awareness of the breath that gives life and marks its rhythms and emotional state. Pak's black and white photography of abstracted landscapes that are also part of the exhibition, evoke the artists own recollections of place, captured through a gauzy lens meant to evoke the sensation of looking through half lidded eyes that retain fleeting images of an experience. In a beautifully sculptural and poetic presentation of glass, Pak captures the temporal in a powerful spatial display of tangible form. In an email exchange with the GLASS Quarterly Hot Sheet, Pak expanded on this latest body of work.

Tanja Pak, Installation View, 2018. courtesy: the artist.

Glass Quarterly Hot Sheet: Could you talk about the singular title of "Breath" for these forms and what the "Breath in Between" means to you?
Tanja Pak: The question of presence and form of breath in its entire symbolism has long played an important role in my work. The singular Breath is when I am hidden within my own world. It is when I am in the silence of waiting that the world moves and I will have space for the next breath. Since I believe this is a story of many individuals of today, I create many worlds of silent inner dream lands, Breaths. Breaths are a space of contemplation and peace. They correspond to each other. They question the solitude and its shape. They are a quiet time for introspection and listening to one’s own heartbeat. A time between all that was and everything still to come. An infinite moment here and now, motionless and yet stretched to infinity.

Everyone seems to live inside the veil of their own transient world, filled with memories, emotions and yearnings. Sometimes, a sense of solitude and timelessness unfolds and makes one gasp for air in their own intimate space of experience, which I call "the breath in between." It is the moment a breath stops … That is where I try to become attuned with the world inside and outside of me. I often think about absence in the sense of non-presence, alienation, yearning. They probably seem beautiful because they are ultimately about breath, sensing life, however it may be.

Someone once wrote: "It is a joy to be hidden, and disaster not to be found." Perhaps the breath in between is also that space. When you are not found. At least not found yet - waiting.

In the breath in between you are alone, caught in the space, gasping for air in the intimate space of your experience, an interstitial breath, as it were. The breath becomes suspended in a frozen moment in time, attuned with the silence and resounding from its own walls. The world shrinks into a membrane of white noise of dreamt out thoughts.

Glass: What does the title of one of your pieces — Congé — mean in this context?
Pak: Congé is a moment that seems to last forever, and turns into a condition. A condition where distancing turns into coming closer and coming closer causes a distance. We live in the space in-between, and breathe through time until the moment when the world moves on, taking us along. Congé, that translates Taking Parts, is about contemplation and peacefulness, drifting apart and separating, longing and conciliation, reuniting in quiet tranquility.

It questions parting and approaching, based on an entity unable to be split, held together by an invisible force, and the inability to become one again, as the knot between the two grows too tight. On the ability for motionless and tightness of the space encompassing parting and approaching. It narrates a story of growing apart and coming together, of our inability to say goodbye, to make things final, as there is always a residue of past interactions left in us.

Tanja Pak, Longing / Conge detail, 2018. Blown glass, thread. courtesy: the artist.

Glass: How does the interweaving of photographs and poetry add to or inform the glass work you have made? Do you have an order to the creative process of these mixed media?
Pak: I try to capture sensations and the essence of thoughts, dreams, yearning, into almost dematerialised matter, constantly seeking immensity and silence in the vastness of actual landscapes, mirroring those inside my awareness.  I access and analyse these feelings through photography in the sense of capturing a visual image, which becomes abstract, mostly due to its proportions. And through words, which sometimes capture these sensations in the outpouring of written notes, which for me are as significant as the visual image. As if, through poetry, I return from a dialogue with glass, which is the poetry of silence. Words sometimes encode feelings just as strongly as the visual image does. The sensation is the same, but every medium opens its own unique shade of the poetic. Creating means of unveiling the curtains, revealing the poetics with the right cuts and moves.  

I was not consciously aware of the connection between photography and glass for a long time. I believe photography reveals my true view of the world. That is my experience of it. Through eyes half-closed, as a trace of impressions and perceptions imprinted in me, with blurred lines and undefined borderlines between here and there. I observe it through reflections and through the membrane through which nothing I see is real, as is nothing that those looking over to my side through the membrane see. The photography captures the emotions that I translate into a different material, glass. To me, this is an inseparable whole.I literally slid into the scene through the peephole of the camera and absorb it. I hardly ever check these notes. It is the memory of the gaze and the captured moment imprinted into me through the lens that is important to me. 

Without thinking of particular photographs, or landscapes, I translate the experience of the gazes in them – not literal images – into glass. These feelings are never generic; they depend on what state we are in when we enter the room. The same silence would sound completely different to someone else. Even I would comprehend it differently in another moment.

Tanja Pak, Breath Detail, 2018. blown glass, H 17-21, W 17-21 in. courtesy: TR3 Gallery.

Glass: Why did you create an installation space to view these glass pieces? What does that add to the understanding of the work?
Pak: I do installations because they allow me to breathe. I enjoy the creative process the most. You are a creator, a reader of stories from long lost times, written on the wall, a seeker of traces in time, a dreamer of sensations and poems, weaving a new story, composing an orchestra composition, all at once. When the doors open, you say goodbye, the sensation is no longer yours alone, you have given it to others ... When I give my work to the public, I have already moved on to the next story, the one I am leaving behind is no longer mine.

Why a group of them - you see, every person lives inside their intimate world. In our encounters we touch other worlds, so one cannot exist without the other, even when one lives in one’s own silence. When opting for number of eleven glass forms on a shared platform of 31 by 25 feet, I did not know it was the master number of magical transition. It was intuitive process, although very precise one.

Our closeness is always virtual, as there is always a thin line in between that transforms the image both ways. Broad spaces of solitude contain room for breathing. Inhalation and exhalation encompass our entire presence and, at the same time, awareness of absence in the sense of non-presence and yearning. All we share with others are reflections of light left on the other side of our transient worlds, translated into new harmonies. We each hear them differently, when prepared to perceive them at all. But once perceived they are valued for all there ever could be.

Tanja Pak, Installation View, 2018. courtesy: the artist

Glass: I understand your work is directly affected by your travels and experiences. Was there a moment that inspired these pieces? Does the spatial installation reference a specific experience or location, or is it meant to be more universally understood?
Pak: My spatial installation never refers to a specific experience directly. I just try to capture sensations and the essence of thoughts, dreams, yearning, into almost de-materialised matter, constantly seeking immensity and silence in the vastness of actual landscapes, mirroring those inside my awareness.

It is about the experience of landscapes, particularly in terms of their vastness, where I feel free and sense the space, breathe it. I remember a moment in the middle of the desert when I became aware, in complete silence, in a motionless moment, that the universe spins in its own rhythms and every part is in its exact place. That I am a part of this vastness, regardless of everything. I remember the peace I was overwhelmed with. The authenticity. I realized then what the purity of being means. The purity of thought, action, honesty to oneself. Then there are other memories: finding the perfect whiteness in the deserts of New Mexico, when I realized that each whiteness needs a shadow to draw it into presence. Just like a person in the moment or in retrospect. And a snowstorm at the very edge of land in the Arctic Circle, where I was trying to catch the disappearing line of the horizon and wondered where the line between being and non-being was.

Tanja Pak, Installation View, 2018. blown glass. courtesy: the artist.

Glass: How do you see your work developing in the future? 
Pak: My plans? I am aware of the power and space for a new breath. I will definitely continue and evolve the theme. Come autumn, I am going to attend a two and a half-month-long residency programme in the Musee du Verre in Sars-Poteries in France and I am very happy to be able to realize my next major project there.


"Breath in Between"
Through October 12, 2018
Galerija TR3
Trg republike 3, Ljubljana
Exhibition Website
Tel: 386 (0) 1 470 0800

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