Petra and Sean
Catinca Tabacaru Gallery
Petra Bachmaier and Sean Gallero are Chicago-based artists. After meeting in 1999 while studying at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, they formed Luftwerk Studio in 2007. Their chosen name—a combination of the German words Luft (air) and Werk (work, artwork—is meant to emphasize both the ephemeral, immaterial properties of light and the material frameworks in which it takes shape and is experienced. The concept of Luftwerk has proven a conceptual touchstone for over twenty years of artistic collaboration.
Recent solo exhibitions of Bachmaier and Gallero’s work have been organized by the Chicago Cultural Center, Chicago, IL (2022); Fosdick-Nelson Gallery, Alfred University, Alfred, NY (2022); Cheekwood Estate & Gardens, Nashville, TN (2022); Mattress Factory, Pittsburgh, PA (2021); Museum für Gestaltung, Zürich (2020); Elmhurst Art Museum, Elmhurst, IL (2019); Cleve Carney Museum of Art, Glen Ellyn, IL (2017); Arts Club of Chicago, Chicago, IL (2016); and Garfield Park Conservatory, Chicago, IL (2015). They have also realized installation projects for significant architectural sites including the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, Chicago, IL (2020); Barcelona Pavilion, Barcelona (2019); Farnsworth House, Plano, IL (2014); Ford Residence, Aurora, IL (2014); Millennium Park, Chicago, IL (2012); Fallingwater, Mill Run, PA (2011); Robie House, Chicago, IL (2010); and Netsch Residence, Chicago, IL (2019). The artists have realized numerous large-scale permanent public and private commissions in Atlanta, Calgary, Charlotte, Chicago, Harare, and Kansas City. Bachmaier and Gallero have been selected for residency programs at the Sustainability Lab at Bellevue University, Institute of Electronic Art at Alfred University, Loghaven, Montello Foundation, and Experimental Sound Studio, among others. They are the recipients of numerous awards, including those from the AIA Chicago, Graham Foundation, and Illinois Arts Council.
For all its visibility, the physical world—or at least how we name, classify, and experience it—often remains subjective if not outright illusive. Our work explores the artistic possibilities of raw matter and scientific data, transforming it into abstracted, atmospheric installations that refuse to offer a singular, prescriptive viewpoint. To stand in front of, or rather within, our work is to encounter the optical, aural, and physical qualities of natural phenomena, but with the awareness that whatever you experience will be unique and ineffable. By illuminating and giving shape to the inscrutable nature of nature, we do not seek to represent or explain it but rather to create spaces for its immaterial poetics.
Every project demands its own unique set of materials and approaches. We embrace new opportunities to experiment and push our process of material making. While we work in a variety of media, including installation, painting, printmaking, sculpture, sound, and video, the consistent throughline of our practice has been a tripartite use of color, light, and space, manifested through both analogue and digital means. In our work, they are not simply abstract concepts or optical effects, but are utilized as primary artistic materials, as tangible matter and physical phenomena rooted in the natural world and shaped by the complicated, humanmade histories of science and the built environment.
While not scientists in either training or practice, we share a similar process of research-based inquiry and deep curiosity about the natural world. To mine and materialize the tension between the knowable and unknowable, we visualize data and draw upon diverse source material including: nineteenth century color classifications, the material origins of pigments, and cutting-edge scientific studies, such as those focused on algae and glaciers.
Our attention to nature also extends to the perception and experience of place. The work we produce shapes, and is shaped by, specific sites and spaces, particularly those already possessing a special relationship with both architecture and natural environments. Engaging with the layered, complex histories of these places enables us to create dynamic palimpsests that open new ways of looking at the familiar.
We established Luftwerk Studio in 2007, its name intended to reflect the dualities, the simultaneous presence of the visible and invisible, embedded in both the natural world and the built environment. While we see our practice as constantly evolving, it is the combination of Luft (air), meant to convey the ephemeral, immaterial properties of light, and Werk (work; artwork), connoting the material frameworks in which such natural phenomena take shape and are experienced, which has remained the conceptual touchstone for two decades of artistic collaboration.