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The Sound of Light

In 1919 German architect Walter Gropius (1883-1969) founded the Bauhaus. Gropius created a revolutionary system and built a school where artisans and designers capable of creating useful and beautiful objects were educated in the study of materials, color theory, and formal relationships. The aim was to integrate art, craft, and technology into a single creative expression. Among of the teachers were visual artists that included Joseph Albers, Paul Klee, and Vasily Kandinsky. Following the preliminary courses in Bauhaus theory, students continued with specialized workshops, including metalworking, cabinetmaking, weaving, pottery, typography, and wall painting. With rising political turmoil in Germany, the Bauhaus school was dissolved by the Nazis, while many of its key figures moved to the United States.

In 1937 the Chicago Association of Art and Industry invited artist and Bauhaus master László Moholy-Nagy to head the New Bauhaus. The Bauhaus philosophy gave rise to modernism and modern design and reinforced the hopes and visions of a bright future where art, science, and technology join together for a better living environment.
In the 1990s the term Digital Bauhaus was first used in Sweden to describe the design of digital artifacts that followed the objectives of the original Bauhaus. With new materials and concepts, contemporary artists in the digital age continue to integrate science and technology with art and design. In Chicago, where art schools offer outstanding curricula in art and technology, the spirit of collaboration has brought together many creative minds. “Luftwerk” is the collaborative vision of artists Petra Bachmaier (b.1974) and Sean Gallero (b.1973). The duo met in 1999 while studying performance art at The School of the Art Institute. Bachmaier is originally from Germany, Gallero is from New York, and together they explore our familiar environment through sight, touch, sound, and thought. “Luftwerk” was officially formed in 2007 and has been constructing multi-media art installations that combine the visual elements of light with the sculptural features of architecture and design.
Two years ago the artists had been invited to create and perform an installation at “Fallingwater,” the remarkable Frank Lloyd Wright house in Pennsylvania. Initially they visited the site, researched Wright’s philosophy, studied topographic maps, site-plans, models, and designed their particular technical and creative blueprint. They collaborated with Liviu Pasare, a Chicago based artist who worked on live multimedia experiences, and employed sophisticated design software. The group designed an eight-screen video set-up where a source image would be mapped and remapped elegantly. At “Fallingwater,” the artists mounted six of eight projectors on two large maple trees, while all eight projectors were operated through one computer system. The opening was in September 2011, after sunset, and with music composed by Owen Clayton Condon, technology of lights and shapes wrapped the house and highlighted its place in the history of art, nature, and human ingenuity.  The installation video was posted on the worldwide web and can be accessed online at http://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=6RJbnA7ESKk.
A new installation by “Luftwerk” entitled “SHIFT” is currently showing work that exists in three rooms that are separated by narrow and elevated archways. In the first room, viewers encounter a color spectrum, inside a color wheel of 509 painted panels projected with light on tiles.  As the light projects on the painted tiles, more than 3,000 tones of red, blue, and yellow mix and create new color palettes. Bauhaus master Johannes Itten's color wheel, was the source of inspiration for the spectrum. In an interview for Chicago Life, Petra Bachmaier noted: “Both of us had never been painting before, but were interested in the pure experience of color combined with light, and how our perception shifts and changes depending on the hue of light interacting with color. The color wheel was our template for the design of the piece and the actual color mixing process. One of the chapters of the video, which is mapped onto the 509 painted canvas boards, also follows Itten's primary and secondary colors, and slowly alters the appearance of the colors of the spectrum. In general, the work is inspired by color theorists and applies intuitive exploration.”
In the second room of the installation, viewers help in shaping the work, as their movements through the space effect the color patterns of light projected onto the floor. Sound artist Owen Clayton Condon highlights the motions through an original sound score inspired by six colors of the light spectrum (red, yellow, blue, green, orange, and purple) and three musical instruments (glockenspiel, cymbal, and wine glasses filled with water). And in the third room, two panels covered in mirror foil form a 90-degree angle to focus the viewers’ attention at the far end of the space. The vertical beams of light meet the mirrored panels, the light bends, and the work challenges our perception of light and space. “SHIFT” runs through January 5, 2014.

Published: October 12, 2013
Issue: November 2013 Issue