Interview by Ryan Smith
Photos by Jeffrey Marini
Bachmaier: I’m from Germany, outside of Munich. I came to the U.S. in the late 90s to go to the School at the Art Institute of Chicago because of their performance art program. My approach has always been interdisciplinary—using media arts and fine arts to create something experiential.
Gallero: I grew up in the Bronx. I was also in the same SAIC performance art program, but by the time Petra was there, I’d ditched school. We met through a German acquaintance of ours. I had a roommate in one of her classes.
Bachmaier: We soon became partners in art and in life. I went back to Germany in 2000 and Sean went with me. We lived there for six months—basically so I could finish my thesis. I really wanted to live in a place that was connected to both of us.
Gallero: We returned to Chicago because it was the place where we met, a place where we developed work from the very beginning, and it felt very comfortable. We knew the lay of the land and the city and the intricacies. It felt like a place to settle, to start our life together.
In the beginning, our art started with slide projections, video projections, and things that involved ephemeral surfaces. We created very experimental, temporary artwork. We’d manipulate or transform a space or material for a very short period of time. Our first piece, for example, was a video projection on ice. Over the course of the event, the ice would melt and you were just left with water.
Bachmaier: Eventually we got more serious and started our studio in 2007. Luft is German for “air,” and Werk is “facility” or “work.” “Luft” reflected the ephemeral quality of the projects we were doing. The overarching narrative of our work is a response or a dialogue with architecture. We’ve become interested in searching for sites that actually have a relationship with urban architectural development connected with natural space.
We’ve worked hard to get where we’re at and made good connections. We had a really successful project in 2012 at Millennium Park with Luminous Field. We did not anticipate that it would become a big public success and were overwhelmed with the response we received. One of the responses was from the director of the Garfield Park Conservatory, who asked us if we were interested in doing something for the grand reopening of the conservatory after all the hail damage. They have a history of showing artwork there. It was very exciting that they asked a local artist team to make a big proposal for them.
“Light art is underappreciated because people tend of think of art that is two-dimensional, like on a wall somewhere.”
We got a tour of the conservatory and came up with some ideas. We were told about the urban legend of the fern room and the waterfall and stonework around it—that Jens Jensen created it so that it would sound like music. We liked that story, so the waterfall became a historical element we wanted to highlight. We wanted to frame it with our Portal piece. The shape of Portal is actually a shape we’ve been working with in our projection art for quite a long time. So we put two and two together. Also we discovered in our research that Jens Jensen liked framing nature, so then we decided to literally frame the waterfall.
Gallero: The whole project took three years. There are a lot of moving parts. When we begin a project, we have these big overreaching ideas and then bring it to a more realistic vision and viewpoint. You’re limited by budget, logistics, and what is both possible and feasible. We have ideas and we concept it and make small-scale models and we have friends who are architects and engineers and fabricators who try to realize it. We do the models, experimentation, and when it’s finalized, they have the realization techniques to make it happen. There’s a lot of trial and error involved.
Bachmaier: In some ways, we would like people to know the thought that went into our art. With [a work in “Solarise” called] Florescence we created a canopy using light from the color spectrum that plants need to grow and blossom. So someone might walk in and just think it’s a pretty-looking canopy, but someone who reads about it might get more out of it because they’re like, Oh yeah—that’s what flowers need. We want to educate and inform why we do things the way we do, but at the same time if a child has a lot of fun with the colors and the shadows on the floor, we are completely content.
Gallero: We’re creating artwork that is interpreted by many. Everyone brings their own narrative. Everyone brings their own vision, their own viewpoint. It always interesting to see how people react to our public art; how viewers create their own artwork from it. It’s always takes us by surprise. It influences us a bit. We ask, “How can we develop, design, and create a piece of work that’s viewed, interacted with, and immersed in the public?” A lot of our work is really activated by a viewer and how they interact with the piece and bring their own experience to it. We can peek over. Sit on a bench. No one knows who we are. We can see people do things. It’s infinitely entertaining. We love it. At the end of the day that’s the most satisfying part of the installation. From that point on, they own it.
Bachmaier: Light art is underappreciated because people tend of think of art that is two-dimensional, like on a wall somewhere. That kind of art has a tradition. Light has a far shorter tradition in the arts.
Gallero: Light travels in space, but you don’t see it until it hits something, or you experience it. Light has gotten more famous recently because they were just able to capture it as a particle, as a wave. It’s so interesting. It’s literally in the spotlight right now. v