2014: Visit to Luftwerk Studio

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Monday, Sep 8, 2014: Visit to Luftwerk Studio

First the question, what is Luftwerk?
Luftwerk is a collaborative vision of two artists – Petra Bachmaier and Sean Gallero. They use light and sound to sculpt site-specific environments. In their own words.. “Our work lives within the connection of light and surface, revealing an inherent texture. A video projector illuminates the surface and opens a dialogue between source and destination. Each project is a new discovery where we interpret a site, material and context to create work that sculpts an immersive environment.”

Check out their website: Luftwerk, click here..



Luminous Field [2012] - by Luftwerk at AT&T Plaza, Millennium Park.

Luminous Field [2012] – by Luftwerk at AT&T Plaza, Millennium Park. / Image Courtesy Luftwerk Studio




Luftwerk uses video-projection to create color-light-sound based three dimensional environments. Viewers can be spectators, or are welcomed to walk into the space and become participants. But the experience is ephemeral. The moment the switch is turned off, its all gone. Only memories remain.


Shift by Luftwerk  at Chicago Cultural Center

Threshold [ part of exhibition Shift / 2013] – by Luftwerk at Chicago Cultural Center



Luftwerk duo - Sean Gallero and Petra Bachmaier - at their studio.

Luftwerk duo – Sean Gallero and Petra Bachmaier – at their studio.


This post is on my visit to Luftwerk Studio on Monday, September 8, 2014. This was in continuation of my endeavor of meeting the artists, to understand their vision behind their work! So his post is not about any specific exhibition by Luftwerk, but in generally understanding the idea behind their color-light-sound based mesmerizing installations.

Some question answers..
[I am paraphrasing our talk in the paragraphs below. I did not go prepared with any question. All of this is part of our small conversation in their studio].

Q. Does Luftwerk mean anything?
Petra explains that Luftwerk [derived from German language] is made up of two words – looft + wurk. Looft is air. Wurk is work.  Any idea we have is like a very ephemeral fleeting moment. So we feel like it is in the air. But it is actually a piece of work. So Luftwerk is a combination of these elements idea, air, work and a transient ephemeral experience. It is art in the moment. Light can be used in a very performative gesture. You can switch it on or off. Light creates its own environment. We sculpt space through light and sound to choreograph a moment. Sean was quick to point out that that the concepts are driven by Petra, whereas he takes care of the practical, technical aspects.  [See how beautifully he admits this in the short video I have attached – scroll down].

Q. How did the idea of sculpting environment using sound and light come about?
Sean explains that it evolved from Performance Art. Both of us were interested in the technical aspect of art. We used light projection in our performance art, to create environment based on imagery.  From there we evolved to a point that we no longer wanted to perform. We wanted to maintain environment in a very light sculptural material focused art work. We took ourselves out of performance and created a stage based on light, material, space. People who view them became participants. It evolved from performance background.

Q. How long you two have been working together?
Petra explains that Luftwerk began in 2007. But they have been collaborating since 2000. Her first collaborative work with Sean was “Sea Light in the Night” in Hamburg, Germany. She has always been interested in placing art in unconventional spaces, where you are not expecting to find art. She took portraits of sailors from all around the world and projected it on sailors hostel on the banks of River Elbe in the port city of Hamburg, Germany.  Seamen from all over the world stay one or two nights here, before beginning their journey in the ocean for several months, away from their country, family, and culture. The projections was very popular, and after this, they were invited to join the sailors in the bar, where they became friends. The artwork lived on after the video projection had stopped. It connected people!

Q. Your work is so concept driven. Do you have moments when you think that the concept is brilliant. But it is not viable?
Sean’s quick reply: Everything is possible! Petra adds, If you can think of it, you can do it!

Since their first collaboration in 2000, they have worked on several projects together, like “Luminous Field” at the AT&T Plaza [Cloud Gate], Millennium Park [2012], “Shift” and “Spring Light” at Chicago Cultural Center [2013].
Two of their upcoming events are:
– “INsite” [October 17-20, 2014] at The Farnsworth House, Plano, IL.
– “FLOW / Im Fluss” [September 18th – 20th, 2014, 7:00pm to midnight]. Location: 180 North State Street in Couch Place Alley, Chicago. Its to “ACTIVATE Couch Place Alley”. Presented by Goethe Institute, Chicago Loop Alliance and NRDC.

Talking about Flow/Im Fluss, Sean explains that it is to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the Sister Cities Chicago and Hamburg. They have been commissioned by Gothe Institute to have an installation to mark the anniversary, and they have collaborated with Chicago Loop Alliance, which is providing them with venue for it. It will be a site-specific light installation, but there is an important subtext to the projections. The imagery is in fact inspired by data they have been collecting on Chicago River and River Elbe, related to oxygen, phosphorus, nitrate and E.Coli. However, they want the viewers to enjoy just the aesthetics of it, but if you want to look deeper, there the imageries are not random, but based on data collected for over a few years..


Petra explains chart for FLOW / Im Fluss

Petra explains chart on data collected from Chicago River and Rive Elbe, for the upcoming installation FLOW / Im Fluss


Now the lingering question I have. Can Luftwerk art be termed as sculptural?
Sculpture is defined as a branch of visual art which is three dimensional in nature. It is characterized by being tactile,  and is conventionally created by objects like stone, wood, metals and clay. Although the work created by Luftwerk, belongs to the visual art category and is three dimensional; however, they use video-projection based light and sound to create an imagery based environment. The experience can be seen and felt; but only for fleeting moment, and then it is gone. They call this process to “sculpt an immersive environment”.
So is this sculpture? Maybe Yes, Maybe No! To me it is redefining the term sculpture as we know it, by reinterpreting what a 3-D space can be composed of and how different the experience of feeling something can be, as against touching it!



Above video is of my talk with Luftwerk dynamic duo Petra Bachmaier and Sean Gallero in the studio. A small very unprofessionally made home video. Maybe that’s its beauty!


Some quality time with Luftwerk artists.

Some quality time with Luftwerk artists at Rootstock Wine and Beer Bar.


Thank You for your time Petra Bachmaier and Sean Gallero!
Thank You for sharing your concepts and experiences!
Best Wishes for future projects!



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