September 27, 2019

Geometry of Light: Art Meets Architecture at Farnsworth House

Geometry of Light 2019 - exterior of Farnsworth House

photo by: Daniel Kelleghan Photography

As part of the 2019 Chicago Architecture Biennial, National Trust Historic Site Farnsworth House is participating with an installation you simply can’t see anywhere else: Geometry of Light, a light-based art intervention by Luftwerk in collaboration with Iker Gil.

During this site-specific installation taking place October 11-13, 2019, light and patterns will be projected both inside and on the grounds surrounding the Farnsworth House. Presented in concert with a sound-piece developed by Oriol Tarragóin in direct response to the site, this intervention will reveal underlying geometries that relate the house to its river floodplain site, topography, and natural landscape.

Luftwerk is the artistic collaboration of Petra Bachmaier and Sean Gallero, and we sat down with them to learn more about Geometry of Light and its relationship to the Farnsworth House.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Tell us a little about Luftwerk. What kind of projects do you take on, and why do you so often work with iconic architecture?

We often work in the ephemeral, revealing information and shifting perspectives. Our name, Luftwerk, embodies our shared vision of work as “light” or “ephemeral.” Over time, our projects coalesced through a focus on developing immersive, experience-based installations using light, reflection, color, data, and architecture as key materials.

Physically speaking, we have collaborated with a lot of significant architecture since 2010, when architecture first found us in our project Projecting Modern at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Robie House. This launched a trajectory of work where we engaged with iconic, notable buildings and sites. In the Chicago area, our work has lived in Millennium Park Chicago; the Farnsworth House by Mies van der Rohe; the Modern Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago by Renzo Piano; among others. And further afield, we have done installations at 1111 Lincoln Road in Miami by Herzog & De Meuron; Fallingwater by Frank Lloyd Wright; and the Barcelona Pavilion by Mies van der Rohe.

Farnsworth House was also the site of your 2014 light and sound illumination, INsite . What keeps drawing you back to the site?

Geometry, light, and materiality are three main aspects from the Farnsworth House that continue to inspire our artistic practice. Since our project in 2014, it has taught us about less is more, material combinations, transparency, reflection, our relationship with nature, and spatial principles. It has also set the foundation for several other artworks, including our recent exhibition, Parallel Perspectives, with four room-sized works that engaged the McCormick House at the Elmhurst Art Museum in 2019. We learned a lot from the house and Mies [van der Rohe] through our installation in 2014, and we are excited to bring some of these ideas back to the house in a new form.

The Farnsworth House embodies many of our interests: The site allows the house to be in dialogue with nature; its structure is pure minimalism; we love its transparency and what glass does with reflections and our perceptions. It plays with light and reflections in most amazing ways.

Geometry of Light 2019 - landscape of Farnsworth House

photo by: Daniel Kelleghan Photography

How is the Geometry of Light installation different from INSite?

The two are very different from one another from both the conceptual and practical approach.

INsite illuminated the minimal structure and transparency of the Farnsworth House. It was much more inward-looking to the house itself and a moment for us to learn more about Mies [van der Rohe] and his use of geometry and materials. Geometry of Light focuses on the house in its context and how the architecture relates to its setting. It explores the dialogue between the structure and its habitat [of] the nearby Fox River and the trees.

When Mies situated the house, he was very intentional about its placement, Upon our first visit to the house in fall 2012, the house was still accompanied by its “witness” tree, the Black Sugar Maple Tree, which was its iconic partner, providing shelter and a myriad of color-changing seasonal reflections onto its glass walls. Soon after this initial visit, this tree was diseased and removed. But we are delighted to know that the National Trust was able to harness a sapling and will replant a new tree, hopefully becoming a new partner of the lasting legacy of the house.

What was the creative process behind Geometry of Light?

Earlier this year, in February 2019, Geometry of Light took place at the German Pavilion in Barcelona, Spain. Experiencing the Pavilion during our first site visit in winter 2018 and how it seemingly floats perfectly on its pedestal sparked the idea of using a specific tool to accentuate the clarity of the architecture with the laser level, a tool mainly used for construction sites to keep things level. All the equipment we use for Geometry of Light has been provided by Bosch Powertools; they made available their latest Bluetooth-enabled three plane lasers, which allows us to draw red lines, retracing the geometry of the architecture and its setting.

“Interventions like Geometry of Light contribute to preserving the lasting legacy of a place like the Farnsworth House, [building] a bridge between 20th-century architecture and ideas to 21st-century art.”


Other collaborators on Geometry of Light include Iker Gil and Oriol Tarragó. Can you tell us about their roles and what it has been like working with them?

Iker Gil is a Chicago-based architect and founder of Mas Studio and Mas Context who was born and raised in Spain. Iker brought in Oriol Tarragó, a Barcelona-based sound designer, to the project to collaborate with a sound piece. Iker worked with us on the concept and implementation of the piece and brought views from the architecture world that helped shape this piece in a different way.

It is valuable to work with others as it provides a new lens to see our work. We have been working as a duo for over a decade, so having new perspectives and insights brings a new light to our work.

What has been your favorite part of creating Geometry of Light?

Our favorite part is thinking about the potential of the work—the impact it can have and how it might change perspectives. We hope our viewers walk away feeling connected to the architecture and site in a new way and see the Farnsworth House differently than before. We like to think about the legacy our work might have—while ephemeral in nature, it is the perspectives that extend beyond the duration of the work. We also think interventions like Geometry of Light contribute to preserving the lasting legacy of a place like the Farnsworth House, [building] a bridge between 20th-century architecture and ideas to 21st-century art.

Visit the Farnsworth House website for tickets and other event details.

Co-presented by Farnsworth House and MAS Context, Geometry of Light is part of the Year of German-American Friendship 2018|19, initiated by the German Federal Foreign Office, the Goethe-Institut, and is supported by the Federation of German Industries (BDI). This project is generously supported by the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, Illinois Arts Council Agency, and Bosch Power Tools - North America. Additional support provided by Chuck Thurow, Virtue Cider, Revolution Brewing, and many individual donors.

Grant is proud to be from a Main Street Community and the Black Dirt Capitol of the World—Conrad, Iowa! You can most often find him reading, running, or out on the road saving places.


National Trust Historic Sites are open! We encourage you to check directly with each site for up-to-date information on available activities, ticketing, and guidelines if you are planning a visit.

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