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2015 Fall Culture Preview

Luftwerk Uses Light to Change the Way You Look at the World

Petra Bachmaier and Sean Gallero, the art installation duo behind Luftwerk   Photo: Saverio Truglia

To design purists, masterworks of modern architecture should be left untouched. Sean Gallero and Petra Bachmaier, the art installation duo behind Luftwerk (which roughly translates from German as “air work”), have a different take. “We see buildings as canvases,” says Gallero, 42, who has been working with Bachmaier, 41, since the two met as undergraduates at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1998 (they are also married). “What if we alter the most famous buildings in the country,” Bachmaier adds, “to make new visitors fall in love with them?”

Gallero and Bachmaier have found an ingenious way to interact with the buildings that inspire them without leaving a mark: They project intricate moving patterns of light to heighten an observer’s experience of the structures. 

The duo’s decadelong project list already reads like a digest of architecture’s greatest hits—Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House, and the Bean, to name a few—but Luftwerk’s most recent project, at the Garfield Park Conservatory, is the biggest yet. Three years in the making, Solarise will feature four light sculptures inside the conservatory’s greenhouses (including a huge petal motif drenching the flower room in color) and an LED light show evoking swaying prairie grass displayed across the building’s entrance. 

Gallero and Bachmaier believe that light art is a largely misunderstood form. Luftwerk’s fast-rising profile is helping to change that. “Light is a beautiful medium,” says Bachmaier. “It changes the way you look at the world.” 

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