solarise: a sea of all colors | Garfield Park Conservatory

Show Info

“I was attracted by the immensity of the sea, and in its place came the Great Plains of America…. A sea of flowers in all colors of the rainbow.”
Jens Jensen | Landscape Architect

A site-specific response to Chicago’s Garfield Park Conservatory, solarise: a sea of all colors is comprised of five dynamic, immersive installations: Portal, Florescence, Seed of Light,  Prismatic and The Beacon. Each artwork invites visitors to interact with color, light, and nature in new perspectives, heightening awareness for the viewer’s natural surroundings, the relevance of Jensen’s visionary landscape, and the architectural and civic significance of the building and its grounds.

Jensen’s vision of framing the experience of nature through landscape design spurred the installation, Portal, which framed the Fern Room’s iconic “spring song waterfall,” the heart of the Conservatory. Aluminum panels float above the reflecting pool’s surface, simultaneously reflecting and fragmenting its surroundings.

A primary goal of solarise was to explore how plants “see” the world around them. In the Show House, Florescence utilizes the colors red and blue to re-imagine the experience of the space from a plant’s perspective. A series of red and blue petal shaped discs are arranged and suspended from above. As day cycles into night, light passes through the sculpture and creates shadows and filtered patterns, animating a normally invisible natural process, photosynthesis.

Exploring the qualities of water as a fundamental element and dynamic material has been a long-standing interest of Luftwerk. Seed of Light, taking inspiration from the water features of Horticultural Hall, traced the sound and motion of water in liquid form. As falling droplets hit the sculptural discs of the installation, trays caught the runoff, its ripples and shadows illuminated across the space.

In the Desert House, Prismatic took the shape of a cross-section of a cactus to replicate a triangular geometric pattern. When sunlight filtered through its prism rods the light refracted into all of the colors of the spectrum. After sunset, pin spot LED lights created a similar effect. Composer, percussionist, and collaborator Owen Clayton Condon also sought to make an encounter with the Desert House special. He created compositions by recording cacti. Plucking cactus needles revealed pitch variations that were influenced by the amount of water the plants retained at any given moment.

Jensen’s belief in creating designs that responded to and were integrated with the surrounding context influenced the form of the Conservatory, which recalls the haystacks that dotted the late 19th and early 20th century Midwestern landscape. The Beacon, which lined the interior of the Palm House dome, was activated using a live digital feed that synced with the wind speed over Chicago. The patterns and colors, responding to the data, produced gestures akin to tall prairie grasses undulating in the breeze.

Through a site-specific intervention with landmark architecture, Luftwerk provided an opportunity for visitors and residents to experience the Garfield Park Conservatory in new ways. Light art became the perfect foil to alter our often passive experience of structural design and nature, illuminating the urban oasis as a local treasure for all.


Architectural Record
CS Modern Interiors
New Media Caucus—College Art Association
Condé Nast Traveler
Architect Magazine
The Architect’s Newspaper
Time Out Chicago
Chicago Reader | People Issue 2015
The Art Assignment | PBS Digital Studio

Project Consultant
Jeremy Olsen
Visual Identity
Sound compositions
Owen Clayton Condon
Lighting Consultant
CFDevices, Navillus Woodworks,
Chicago Flyhouse
John Faier, Peter Tsai
Supported by
The Chicago Park District, GPCA, ComEd, Exelon