Date
January 24, 2020
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Luftwerk is a US-based studio founded in 2007 by Petra Bachmaier and Sean Gallero creating experience design projects through fascinating video projections, site-specific installations, and experimental projects to interpret data.  

“With space as our canvas, we transform environments and surfaces into immersive experiences” says Petra and Sean, the founders of Luftwerk in the interview with DesignWanted. Luftwerk studio endeavors an exploration of light, color, and technology blended into interactive installations.

Essentially, Luftwerk creates visual atmospheres through the use of light, manipulating the viewers’ attention with bright colors to provide mesmerizing experiences. Petra and Sean describe that in every project from Luftwerk, color is the key and light is the core. Combining light with color adds a dynamic layer to their work creating a shift in the perception of the audience.  

Lufwerk is a collaboration of two artists, two people in the first place. How was this duo born, how did the collaboration begin?

Petra and Sean: “Our collaborative journey began in the Performance Art Department at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1999, where we discovered shared interests in creating art. Through the years our work evolved and by working together we were able to facilitate larger and bolder interventions. In 2007 we formed Luftwerk to fully embrace our collaborative practice. The name Luftwerk embodies our shared vision of work that is “light” or “ephemeral.”

The Barcelona Pavilion installation designed by Luftwerk where they used red beam laser light to highlight the geometrical formation

Luftwerk’s work focuses on an intense exploration of ways to use light, specific colors and choreographed projections. Is there a process that you follow, common to every project you make?

Petra and Sean: “The perception of space informs us as our artwork primarily lives within site-specific places. Each site, whether interior and exterior, public or private – offers a specific context integrating history, architecture, and environment and a diverse range of scale, surface, structure and opportunity for audience interaction. We are interested in how light interacts with these varying aspects.

Our studio is a place for experimentation. From initial ideas and concepts to development and execution, we seek new ways to utilize and experience light’s elemental qualities. Whether using artificial or natural light, projecting video or casting colorful shadows, our process remains rooted in research.

We continually strive to expand the vocabulary of light, producing new iterations of light as a visual language, and the aim of every artwork is to challenge our overall practice conceptually.”

The Farnsworth House installation by Luftwerk
The Farnsworth House installation by Luftwerk is an effort to remind the historical value of Mies Van Der Roh’s geometric style

What is Luftwerk’s belief regarding interaction through installations?

Petra and Sean: “Given the nature of our practice, large-scale installations lend themselves to the realm of public art. We see how public art provides points of engagement to those beyond the expected art audience and view it as a transformative platform for sharing our ideas.

Several of our works appear to be interactive; viewers often assume they can trigger or modify the experience. This destabilizing force between artwork and viewer is interesting to us conceptually.

The White Wanderer installation by Luftwerk
The White Wanderer installation: an intervention of sound and light with the help of glass, triangle wood, and LED lights

The Farnsworth House was one of your site-specific installations emphasizing Ludwig Mies Van De Rohe’s brilliant architecture. Can you tell us about how the idea was born and the execution of this project?

Petra and Sean: “The Farnsworth House installation was a companion to another project we did at Mies’ German Pavilion in Barcelona in February 2019. Experiencing the Pavilion during our first site visit in winter 2018 and seeing how it seemingly floats perfectly on its pedestal sparked the idea of using a specific tool to accentuate the clarity of the architecture. 

We used the laser level, a tool mainly used in construction, to keep things level and it allowed us to retrace the geometry of the architecture and its setting in crisp red lines. The Geometry of Light was intended to draw a connection between two buildings designed by Mies and also took place at the Farnsworth House in Plano IL.”

Unlimited budget, unlimited resources: what is the project that you would develop? What would it look like?

Petra and Sean: “Unlimited budgets and resources, a dream come true … there are so many ideas and concepts we hope to fully develop, but speaking about Requiem: A White Wanderer, which we present as a bold first draft on February 1st, 2020 at Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, Chicago – our hope is to produce the piece as Gesamtkunstwerk one day, creating an original score for opera that merges spatial design with orchestral music and performance.

Luftwerks's Linear Sky installation
Luftwerks’s Linear Sky installation showcases light fixtures with various lengths in an anamorphic optical illusion

A lot of design students aspire to develop their career in light design and installation design. What is the most important piece of advice that you can share with fresh graduates aiming at this field?

“Ten years after graduating we started doing artist residencies, I wish we would have embarked on those years earlier, having space and time for our practice to keep evolving is refreshing! There is no one piece of advice, the artistic journey is so individual and some of the best artists take their own direction anyway.”