February 23, 2015

Luftwerk Takes You Inside “INsite” at Farnsworth House

Exterior of the Farnsworth House with white lights

photo by: Mel and Phil Theobald

You might have heard it said that the past illuminates the present. But what if we in the present illuminated the past -- literally and wonderfully?

That's what INsite, last year's light and sound installation at National Trust Historic Site Farnsworth House, achieved in spectacular measure with a hypnotic video composition set to original music that played on and throughout the classic Mies van der Rohe-designed space. (Check out the video after the jump.) Created by artist collaborative Luftwerk, the piece played with the site's transparency and minimalism to create a new experience for visitors.

INsite ended four months ago, but its beauty has stayed with us. So we caught up with artist Petra Bachmaier -- who, with Luftwerk partner, Sean Gallero, created the multi-sensory experience -- to learn more about their work and the creative vision behind it.

Tell me about Luftwerk. What type of projects do you typically take on, and what is your creative vision?

Luftwerk is the collaborative effort of myself and my partner Sean Gallero. Our projects vary from installation work to site-specific intervention.

The Farnsworth House INsite was very exciting for us because we were able to engage with an iconic landmark. What we are trying to do in general is to blend historic sites with contemporary media, and then we open up a new dialogue with the site and then invite the public to rediscover a landmark in the public space.

People gathered outside of Farnsworth House

photo by: Kate Joyce

How had you come to be involved with the Farnsworth House?

We actually reached out to the Farnsworth House after we completed a commission for Fallingwater in 2011, when we had a project titled “Celebrating 75 Years of Art and Nature.” Through experiencing how moving light interacts with Fallingwater, we became really immersed with [it], and we became very inspired to continue this dialogue of how we activate an iconic surface, like Fallingwater that is so nestled in nature, with a similar structure which we think of as the Farnsworth House. Both pieces of architecture, for us, relate in the way they allow for an experience with nature.

Thinking about that relationship between architecture and nature, what specific elements of the Farnsworth House design or its history inspired your installation?

Initially, when we visited the Farnsworth House for the first time, we were fascinated by how the location of the house was placed in relation to the trees surrounding it and that particular tree we thought of as the organic partner that really made the bridge between nature and architecture. And that became our initial thread or our initial inspiration to work with the house.

Interior of Farnsworth House

photo by: Kate Joyce

What was your creative process like?

The process for the Farnsworth House was actually a long process. We started working on this project in 2012, and during our first night at Farnsworth, [then-director] Whitney French really encouraged us to feel the house and to explore, and actually she invited us to come out with the medium projector just to see what light does in relation to the architecture. All of us who were witnessing that test were really fascinated how magically the house adopted and responded to light.

Later on, we researched more [about] how the minimalist structure allows for light to go into the house and how light travels through the house, and more and more the intervention with projected light at the Farnsworth House was a great connection to have. It was enveloping the building and heightening what is already happening during the day; we just expanded it.

The glass was so fascinating -- it reflects every subtlety in nature. During the day you see these wonderful reflections in the glass walls, and at night we had incredible reflections through the projections. It was almost like we didn’t feel like we had to do much; the house did it for us.

How did INsite differ from other projects you’ve done and what stood out to you in particular about this project?

This was our first crowdfunded project, and the staff handled a lot of logistics that are involved including fundraising and planning. We could not have done it without the great support of the entire staff at the Farnsworth House. They were wonderful to work with, every one of them, from the docent to the groundskeeper to the director. It was wonderful to have everyone support and encourage this project.

Close-up of the exterior of the Farnsworth House

photo by: Kate Joyce

What was your favorite part of creating INsite? Did anything surprise you along the way?

Well, of course our favorite part was when it actually came to realization, and we all stood there and saw the work and everything came together just perfectly. It was the most beautiful thing to see how the public and audience interacted with the site. We were really able to create a unique experience for people who love the Farnsworth House and are aware of the building and know a lot about the architect, but they were able to see it in a new way and have a very intimate, different moment with the site.

It was a very dedicated audience that we attracted for every evening. It varied from architecture lovers to art enthusiasts. One of the moments was on the second night [when] one of the audience members started to lie on the floor of the Farnsworth House, and at first everybody was like “Oh, who is this person lying on the floor at the Farnsworth House?” Then other people joined in and it became a unique experience where people could experience the house in ways they never do.

Learn more about Luftwerk’s current and upcoming projects.

Julia Rocchi was the senior director of digital marketing at the National Trust. By day she wrangles content; by night (and weekends), she shops local, travels to story-rich places, and gawks at buildings.

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