Luftwerk's Immersive Illumination

Kate Joyce

Over the course of a four-day weekend in October, Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House produced a luminous glow. The source was a video installation titled “INsite” by Chicago-based artist collaborative Luftwerk, led by Petra Bachmaier and Sean Gallero. The installation consists of a series of unobtrusive projectors that illuminate three facades and the interior. Visitors were allowed the rare treat of experiencing the Farnsworth House at night, where they could casually roam in and out of the house to explore the immersive environment created by the installation.


Having worked on previous installations at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater and Robie House, Luftwerk has grown accustomed to researching their sites extensively in order guide their video content so that it responds to the ideas presented in the original architecture. “The work is a balancing act where they are both revealing the structure, the steel, the glass, the relationship to nature, but then under the cover of night extending and reanimating it out into our imagination from its historic presence,” said Steve Dietz, curator of the installation and President and Artistic Director of Northern, during a brief introduction before percussionist Owen Clayton Condon performed his original musical score.


The nearly eight-minute looping video and score is divided into three chapters—geometry, fluidity, and site—which seamlessly dissolve into each other. It begins with a highlighting of the elevational planes of the house before breaking this down to more elemental horizontal and vertical lines, almost acting as dynamic diagrammatic analysis projected onto the façade. It evolves into more complex geometric configurations beginning to suggest the fluidity of movement within the project’s open plan before dissolving into imagery taken from the neighboring Fox River for the fluidity chapter and a tree for the site chapter. While the installation does not physically insert anything into the space, the changed atmosphere is substantial. Mies’ ideology of “beinahe nichts,” or “almost nothing,” is exemplified in Luftwerk’s use of video projection. “Light is almost nothing, it is present, but not a material,” said Bachmaier. “This nothing becomes reflected and extends the space creating an illusion.”

In contrast to the standard daytime Farnsworth tour, this installation truly reinforces existing conditions within the famed house, while simultaneously creating new narratives.

“The Farnsworth inspires artists and architects today,” said Maurice Drue Parrish, director of the Farnsworth House, “and it’s installations like this that give us the opportunity to demonstrate this in a very real way.”

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