In Praise of Light : Luftwerk’s Architectural Eclipse

I once read a theory that humor is the product of a skew in logic, that recognition of an event that short-circuits our everyday perception yields the associated reaction – whether of laughter or a smirk. Sense of humor then varies from person to person, as do our own general takes on the everyday.

It could be argued that the awe and aesthetics stem from similar origins – though events that invoke sense of these more formidable concepts challenge broader knowledge and more objective standards that individuals culturally share.

In Praise of Light : Luftwerk’s Architectural Eclipse

In a very bland summary: humor is a wryly phrased play on words, awe is a gesture that deftly employs [but seemingly defies] the laws of physics.

Chicago-based artists Petra Bachmaier and Sean Gallero, who collaborate under the moniker Luftwerk, have been producing quietly elegant multi-media work over the last decade, which invite the viewer to suspend for a time their grasps on fact and logic, and revel in a perspective they may never have considered, and may never witness again.

In Praise of Light : Luftwerk’s Architectural Eclipse

In their pieces, figures pass their past and future selves as they descend and ascend into the sea; a brilliant summer sky dissolves Dali-esque and produces the sound of a subterranean cavern as the ice-block screen on which it is projected begins to melt; a darkened room envelopes visitors, but instead of producing an exponent of darkness through their shadows, they cast spectrums of color along the floor. And in the case of each one, work is temporary, disassembled and collected without leaving a trace – the ephemerality only serving to enforce its wonder.

In recent years, Luftwerk have received praise for their work exploring the overlaps between time-based media and architecture – digitally mapping the surfaces of buildings such as Wright’s Falling Water, and projecting imagery that has been crafted to enhance, complement, or contrast the built forms. The installations are fully immersive, shifting in three dimensions, coupled with a sonic component.

In Praise of Light : Luftwerk’s Architectural Eclipse

In theory, it seems contradictory. Architecture in its traditional perceptions could be seen as the antithesis of this form of art.

But this is an article about the beauty of altered perceptions and logic: after dusk would otherwise obscure the built world, Luftwerk conjures an illuminated and kinetic guise; patterns follow the contours of built masses like choreography, and the house ripples with it, measuring out its lengths and heights, to be viewed uniquely from every position. If nothing else, viewers cannot help but note the very elements of design that define this landmarked building.

Luftwerk’s next target: Mies van der Rohe’s monument to the minimalist’s weekend in nature: The Farnsworth House. Famed for its lightness and transparency, the house exemplifies many of the characteristics that made Modernist architecture stand in vivid contrast to its predecessors.

Where structures were once necessarily massive, opaque, permanent, and immobile – many of which benefitted from this image – Modernist architecture in some of its best forms is delicate, transparent, minimal, and gives a sense of dynamism through light connections with the ground plane, cantilevers, soaring heights, or long, lithe profiles. In short, and regardless of whether it appeals to one’s personal tastes: it is an architecture that commands awe.

The Farnsworth House thus becomes Luftwerk’s conspirator more than their canvas for INsite – linear projections are amplified as glass, stone, and metal become both vessel and mirror for the light. From the exterior, we see the perfect infinity shot, and from the interior a phantom tapestry of orthogonal bands of light and shadow superimposed on reflections surrounding landscape. The effect in some ways is reminiscent of those present in other Mies projects – most notably the Barcelona Pavilion.

The stills shown here are from only a test session; Bachmaier and Gallero are currently seeking funding for a longer, more extensive session that would be open to the public.

If they succeed in their efforts, it would be a spectacular show — as an opportunity for the architecturally inclined to see a masterpiece through a novel lens, and for those unfamiliar with the work to understand better the subtle beauty of a design style often criticized for being too stark or grave. In any case, a rare, wonderful experience… an eclipse reinterpreted through a shift in logic.

Text: Linda Just
Photo credits: Kate Joyce and Luftwerk

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