Since 2007, Petra Bachmaier has joined forces with Sean Gallero to form Luftwerk, a Chicago-based multimedia art practice. Now on the brink of revealing its first ever permanent artwork, over the last decade this playful duo has been enhancing buildings and public spaces with light installations that engage audiences with thought, touch, sight and sound.
The main language of Luftwerk – which literally translates from German as "air work"– is light. And speaking to Bachmaier, DAMN° discovered that for the pair, "A light sculpture is an ephemeral monument. We temporally alter famous buildings to make new visitors fall in love with them."
Petra Bachmaier, who is originally from Munich in Germany, and Sean Gallero, who was born and raised in the Bronx, NYC, met at art school in Chicago, and still call it home. The city is even more than that: Chicago has been Luftwerk’s major playground and seems to act as a muse for the duo. "In many ways Chicago is an incredibly inspiring place – there is a lot of space, it's a never finished city full of hidden corners, it can still invent itself. After so many years living here, Chicago has a major influence on how we think about urbanism and nature, and what the role of art is in all this," says Bachmaier. "We love engaging with the context of the city, among others, through the work of Frank Lloyd Wright."
Many of Bachmaier and Gallero’s monumental public works deal with urban spaces and architecture, including two temporary light installations at sites created by Frank Lloyd Wright: Projecting Modern at Robie House (2010), and Art in Nature at Fallingwater (for its 75th anniversary, in 2011). Bachmaier says that the modernist architect's work "totally opened up our way of thinking of space".
Other key Luftwerk creations are the 10-piece light exhibit INsite at Mies van der Rohe’s glass Farnsworth House (2014); Luminous Fields at Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate (the Bean) sculpture (2012); the White Wanderer, a monumental public art installation using the sights & sounds of Antarctica's Larsen Ice Shelf breaking off into the Weddell Sea (2017); the year-long Solarise exhibit at Garfield Park Conservatory, which consisted of a series of light installations changing with the seasons (2015-16); and the Becoming installation for champagne brand Maison Perrier-Jouët at Design Miami (2017). In all these creations, Luftwerk enhanced the audience’s experience of public spaces and architecture by temporally projecting moving patterns of light.
It can take months or even years of intense work for Luftwerk's pieces to emerge. It's a research-heavy process, both creatively and technologically, with the duo enjoying collaborating with fellow artists, scientists and architects. "We face the same challenges using different methods. We share a lot of curiosity too. It then all weaves together in a playful format. Through these collaborations we're learning about the world: where is ecology now, how is sustainability evolving?" Bachmaier explains, adding that for Luftwerk, the journey is the goal.
At the time of writing, Luftwerk is preparing to unveil a public art piece in Canada, which will be its first ever permanent work. "The Calgary" project consists of 76 'video' sticks that are connected to data from Earth's magnetic activity. Depending on the amount of activity, they change colour and movement. The installation is intended to be like a barometer for Aurora Borealis visibility, meandering along the periphery of a new office building designed by SOM (Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP)."
The work is due to open in February 2018. As Bachmaier says: "We are really creating work for the moment, and are more interested in the works still to come than what we created in the past. We believe our best work is still to come!"
[Article in cooperation with DAMNº]
The "White Wanderer", a monumental public art installation by Luftwerk. © Edyta Stepien
"Art in Nature" at Fallingwater for its 75th anniversary. © Luftwerk
"The Calgary" project consists of 76 'video' sticks that are connected to data from Earth's magnetic activity. © Luftwerk
"INsite" at Mies van der Rohe’s glass Farnsworth House © Tom Rossiter
"INsite" at Mies van der Rohe’s glass Farnsworth House © Kate Joyce