COLORSCAPES | Cheekwood
Cheekwood Estate & Gardens, Nashville, TN
May 7-September 4, 2022
The contemporary understanding of color has a rich and complex history, whether through the histories of plant-based pigments like indigo, or the development of color theory through the discourses of Enlightenment-era writers, scientists, and naturalists. One of the most significant examples of the latter is the Scottish artist Patrick Syme’s Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours. First published in 1814 and based on the groundbreaking work of German geologist Abraham Gottlob Werner, the book presented a taxonomic guide to the colors of the natural world and was a precursor to the modern Pantone system. Color—and more specifically the color classified in Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours—serves as the conceptual springboard for a vibrant site-specific takeover at the Cheekwood Estate & Gardens by the Chicago-based collaborative Luftwerk (Petra Bachmaier & Sean Gallero). In this unique context, COLORSCAPES will explore how the historic, yet fundamental scientific knowledge of color, perception, and nature can inform and connect us to the natural world today.
COLORSCAPES consists of a series of dynamic outdoor installations and gallery interventions. Set along a prescribed path, the exhibition unfolds across Cheekwood’s Cheekwood’s Bradford Robertson Color Garden, Arboretum Lawn, and Bracken Foundation Children’s Garden before moving up to the portico of the Historic Mansion & Museum and into its more intimately scaled galleries. Inside, Luftwerk has created a series of immersive color and light installations using botanical colors in combination with color changing light conditions that transform into abstracted, atmospheric experiences. Whether using natural pigments, exploring the phenomenon of light and color in the sky, or building on the histories explored in the gardens, the works installed in the galleries are informed by a holistic perception of the natural world and an interconnected ecology. “Unity through variety” is the mantra of this site-specific exhibition, which will offer a multi-layered journey that responds to and connects with the different gardens, architecture, and collections of Cheekwood.
SKY BLUE | Cheekwood
Cheekwood Estate & Gardens, Nashville, TN
May 7-September 4, 2022
COLORSCAPESis an immersive, site-specific exhibition exploring the perception of the physical world through color, the exhibition features a series of dynamic, experiential outdoor installations and gallery interventions.
In 1789, the Swiss scientist and mountaineer Horace-Bénédict de Saussure (1740-1799) invented a device called a cyanometer (or cyanomètre). A simple tool made to measure the blueness of the sky, it is essentially a circle of paper with gradients of Prussian blue that move from white to black in fifty-two distinct degrees of color. Saussure, along with subsequent scientifically minded explorers like Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859), used the device to demonstrate that the color of the sky grows darker with increases in elevation. Sky Blue transforms the existing architecture of the portico of Cheekwood’s Historic Mansion into an inhabitable cyanometer. In this environmental installation the ever-present if often unnoticed connection between sky, place, nature, color, and individual acutely perceptible and felt.
Open Square | Mattress Factory
Luftwerk’s interest in the relationship between color and light is the driving force behind the creation of Open Square. The installation takes the shape of a square – universal in its simplicity; a pure expression of a spatial idea, complete in itself; a shape that can be turned into triangles or rectangles – as the building block for its layout. Consisting of two interconnected square spaces, each painted in contrasting color patterns and illuminated with color changing light, shift the viewers spatial recognition, giving the illusion of revealing and dissolving spaces.
Developed throughout the Covid-19 lockdowns of 2020, the exhibition reflects on the habitat that defines our everyday experience. The duality of light and dark, cold and warm, the cyclical flow of the installation is a contemplation of the physical experiences of interior space and how our perception can shift through color, light and sound. Open Square is Factory installed as part of the Mattress Factory Residency Program 2021.
Total Space | Museum für Gestaltung Zürich
Total Space: Landscape is a composition
Drawing inspiration from the theories of the Italian Renaissance painter and polymath Leon Battista Alberti Luftwerk applies Alberti’s observations on color and perspective to create an ever-changing, immersive space. Two pigments used in painting that bear the geographical names Naples yellow and Prussian blue were applied to the high walls of the space in precise geometric patterns. And then the room was flooded with light. With these three components alone, Luftwerk creates a vibrant spatial landscape. Light, color, and form fuse to form a whole that, once illuminated, can be contracted or expanded, going through continuous transformations. Combining the two colors with light generates a harmonious and almost meditative effect that alternately defines or blurs our perception of space.
On view: October 23, 2020 – June 20, 2021, Location: Museum für Gestaltung Zürich, Toni-Areal, Curators: Damian Fopp, curator at the Museum für Gestaltung Zürich Matylda Krzykowski, freelance curator
Chiaro Oscuro | Volume Gallery
Chiaro Oscuro—Luftwerk’s second exhibition at Volume Gallery, Chicago—is an exploration of the varying modes and forms of gradient light. The word chiaroscuro literally means bright/dark and refers to the use of contrasts within art compositions. Situating this concept of contrast, difference and changeability as a point of departure, four light-based sculptural works illuminate the gallery, evoking a sense of flux. By using the power of reflection and perception to imply and summon a point of disappearance—a threshold is invoked.
Soleil Levant No. 1 Yellow to Blue
A cone shaped wall sculpture. Its interior surface is painted in a radiant gradient with yellow in its center fading into blue; this painted surface illuminates and activates via color changing perimeter lighting. As color shifting light interacts with the painted surface of the sculpture at times the color seems to breathe, expand and recede, an interplay of light and dark, day and night. This sculpture captures the interplay of color in interaction with light. “Yellow is the color nearest the light. Blue: as yellow is always accompanied with light, so it may be said that blue still brings a principle of darkness with it.… Color itself is a degree of darkness.” J. W. von Goethe
In two works called, Vanishing Horizon and Vanishing On End eight straight lines of white neon discretely taper down in length towards nothingness suggesting the spatial depth of an edge. Recessing to an imagined endpoint, a place beyond the horizon. Inspired by concepts of spatial perception, these two unique pieces draw upon a linear one point perspective. While emanating light the pieces intend to draw attention to the negative space of a given wall, illuminating a space open for imagination, what’s beyond?
Projected light and reflective surfaces activate the restrained palette of Frequency No. 1, an undulating wall-mounted sculpture composed of mirrored stainless-steel strips, which mimics the surface of a seascape in motion. Illuminated by lights from above, the sculpture transforms its surroundings into an ethereal play of pattern between light and shadow. Frequency No. 1 is informed by Luftwerk’s interest in data visualization and their multi-year long project titled White Wanderer that sonifies seismic data sets collected by Douglas MacAyel, a world renowned glaciologist who observes motion of glaciers and sea ice in Antarctica.
Parallel Perspectives | Elmhurst Art Museum
Parallel Perspectives uses color and light interventions to activate and interpret the McCormick House (1952) designed by Mies van der Rohe. This installation heightens the senses and alters the perception while celebrating the mid-Century prefab prototype. The exhibition title refers to the paired prefab sections of the McCormick House, and the works in this show inspired by the conceptual framework of Mies.
The installation includes several works with static and dynamic color relationships, including an immersive light piece that transforms a bedroom, parallel neon light pieces with mirrored effects, pulsing lightboxes, and a colorful glass cube. The visual effects impact the experiences and spatial perceptions of the viewer throughout the domestic environment.
Part of Bauhaus100, the global anniversary celebrations of the legendary German art school. It continues Luftwerk’s year-long exploration of architecture by Mies, which began with the Barcelona Pavilion and will end with the Farnsworth House.
afterglow | Volume Gallery
Exploring the interplay of light and color, afterglow, presents concepts that have evolved over a decade of research, experimentation, and installations by Luftwerk. Through a large-scale immersive wall installation and a series contained light boxes, this exhibition reveals Luftwerk’s interest in the effects of a gradient of light, from brightness to darkness and the shifting perception of colors in different light conditions.
Experimenting with light conditions—from day to night, light to dark—the color-coded wallpaper is activated through shifting color interactions and perceptions. These principles of light and color interactions are contained through a series of corresponding lightboxes. Each featuring a different color, they explore how color lives between light and dark and how this interaction affects spatial sensibilities.
afterglow is Luftwerk’s first solo exhibition at Volume Gallery
Haze is permanently installed at 360 W Erie Street, Chicago IL
Color Code | Cleve Carney Museum of Art
What defines common decency, truth, fact or fiction, and even cultural or national identity is changing. Voices expressing intolerant views and protectionist values have more visibility in politics and media. For a variety of reasons, many people around the world feel distress, and the tools we have used to bring relief before, seem to be failing. The rules of engagement for relating to each other and the natural world are changing.
As an artistic duo that explores the physical and psychological effects of color, Luftwerk know that color theory, while rule-bound, is highly personal. Their large-scale, site-specific installations using projected video to explore relationships between material, form, and light maintain a strong focus on the subjective, which highlights the fleeting and context-specific nature of visual experience. In “Color Code,” they expand that inquiry by investigating color as a system of language and symbols, and a marker of emotion.
Drawing on Goethe’s interpretation of color theory, “Color Code” consists of nine paintings—six-feet-by-six-feet colored squares—applied to the gallery’s walls. The paintings, using the International Morse Code system of dots and dashes to spell out “SOS,” are configured with a variation on complementary color patterns, creating a playful visual excursion. In this pattern, the color scheme maintains the consistency of complementary colors, but in a softer, more harmonious manner. Modest lightbox sculptures that mimic the code’s dashes, feature circular panels backlight by color shifting lights.
In Goethe’s theory of color, different hues carry a physical and mental charge for the viewer. Yellow, for example, is imbued with brightness and joy, while red suggests grace and attractiveness, and might evoke feelings of dignity or gravity in a spectator. Goethe also thought of darkness as more than the absence of light, instead considering it an important component to provoking certain emotions. Black, for Goethe, was not simply the absence of color, but a color itself, and accordingly, the gallery walls have been transformed into a black canvas for “Color Code.”
When wireless radiotelegraph machines were introduced on merchant ships in the early 1900s, sailors finally had a way to signal distress and attract attention if needed. Initially, each country had its own distress signal for its fleet, causing confusion in critical moments. Not everyone could understand or recognize the message encoded in the transmitted sound. When the international distress signal “SOS” was adopted in 1908, its easily recognizable and unique code—no other symbol uses more than eight elements—produced aural unity, a sense of calm in life-or-death situations. As “SOS” began to be incorporated into popular culture, it took on textual inference, such as “Save Our Souls,” “Save Our Ship,” or even “Save Our Succor.” Visually, the pattern forms the letters S (three dots) O (three dashes) S (three dots) allowing it to remain an effective visual distress signal, an ambigram that can be read upside down or right side up. As the world adjusts to new norms in challenging times, re-considering how language, objects and symbols, and even color can help us find stable ground and safety no matter where we are.
Essay by Lee Ann Norman
Cleve Carney Museum of Art
White Wanderer | NRDC booth at EXPO Chicago
White Wanderer, an intervention of sound and light
Developed from relationships with the Natural Resources Defense Council and a glaciologist at the University of Chicago, this project launched in October 2017 with two iterations: 2 Riverfront Plaza and another at Art Expo Chicago. The immersive installation at 2 Riverside Plaza was comprised of a visual representation at 1:5000 scale of the 120-mile long crack on the side of the building paired with a custom sound recording of the iceberg. Sound recordings of Larsen-C covered the plaza with a prominent frequency; at times the city and iceberg sounds correlate to one another and at other times they are in conflict. The haunting, eerie iceberg sound is animalistic with a depth that connects on a visceral level, stirring curiosity to create awareness and action. The White Wanderer exhibition at EXPO Chicago presented artistic interpretations of the Larsen-C ice shelf, including: a light sculpture mimicking ice flow, prints tracing satellite images of Arctic ice flows, and interpretations of radar readings from ice distress.
Corner of a Square | The Arts Club of Chicago
Looking at the corner of a square, Luftwerk unpacked the Arts Club of Chicago’s iconic staircase designed by Mies van der Rohe with this installation. The 90-degree angular lines in his buildings are also the primary structure of the stair. While these forms have a strong and rigid geometry, there is a lot space within them. To explore this space, Luftwerk created an abstract stepped armature that, when viewed from the correct angle, appears as a square. Rigid lines are softened by the halo emerging from the light outlining the sculpture. This interpretation of Mies highlights the softness of space that exists within strong geometric forms.
This custom-designed structure was created for the garden of the Arts Club of Chicago, bringing the exploration of the interior, outside. From Luftwerk’s research and interaction with buildings by Mies, they see something metaphysical that transcends the materiality and rigid geometry of his architecture. Through this installation they express this quality, framing the space within the framework while diffusing the lines of the piece with the glow of light.