Sunday, September 18, 2011

An Original Feature: Multimedia Works from Luftwerk

Magical Multimedia Works from Luftwerk

A Chicago art team is transforming an iconic masterpiece of American architecture using a “new medium of expression.”

By Angela Shawn-Chi Lu

Spectacles of light and form, they provoke the question: “What is that?”

In one, clouds amidst a cerulean sky soar across a 10-ton wall of shimmering ice. In another, waves and water reflections flood a canopy of 13,000 silk lotus flowers. In a third, sophisticated kaleidoscopes twist and twirl vertiginously.

Featured everywhere from Abu Dhabi to Massachusetts, the video projection installations of the art team called Luftwerk, mesmerize. Upon witnessing one of Luftwerk’s projects last fall, Eva Silverman, a director at the Chicago Office of Tourism and Culture, recalls letting out a gasp and thinking, “That’s so exciting.”

However, none of that previous work can quite compare to what the Chicago-based pair, husband Sean Gallero and wife Petra Bachmaier, are creating now—a tribute to one of the greatest architectural masterpieces of all time. This January, trustees of Fallingwater—the terraced, rural Pennsylvania house that many consider to be Frank Lloyd Wright’s tour de force—approached Luftwerk to create a video projection show for its exterior. After eight and a half months of hard work, their project comes to life this weekend at a gala on Saturday night and a showing on Sunday night in Mill Run, Pa. for the 75th anniversary of the iconic residence. Footage of the show will also be viewable on YouTube soon.

Fallingwater trustees recognize that the team produces some of today’s most progressive contemporary art—works, however, that remain a mystery to many. Using design software, lighting and video projection, Luftwerk crafts multisensory immersive installations, sculptures and shows that engage viewers visually, aurally and tactilely. Ultimately, the team hopes to sensitize viewers within the media-saturated culture of distraction, and encourage viewers to reexamine the world.

The Fallingwater project, though, has become one of Luftwerk’s most difficult challenges to date, both on technical and conceptual levels. The team must tailor their projectors and designs to fit the various depths of Fallingwater’s cantilevered terraces without overlapping or pixilation, and they must do this in the middle of a wooded glen broken by a waterfall, while still honoring the gorgeous architecture that dominates the space.

Luftwerk is now setting out to accomplish what even renowned installation artist Robert Irwin considered mind-bogglingly difficult. While visiting Fallingwater during the 1980s to consider building an installation there, Irwin, according to Fallingwater Director Lynda Waggoner, simply said, “Well, I don’t know what else I can say. The dialogue here is so complete.”

Bachmaier and Gallero hope to keep the conversation going, though they recognize the complexities involved. “I think the greatest challenge is: How do you create something on a creation that’s so iconic?” Gallero says.


Hard, geometric shapes. Massive, white drafting tables. Cushionless chairs and stools for working. If an architect wanted a de Stijl-inspired office, this would be it. Though large by city standards, Luftwerk’s Humboldt Park studio, which doubles as the couple’s apartment, is almost entirely devoted to their craft. Only the two tiny bedrooms at the front offer space for any relaxation.

The apartment’s furnishings reflect the duo’s intense discipline. They are now working up to 15 hours a day, seven days a week for the Fallingwater project.

“It’s a 24/7 process,” says Gallero, 38, a slender, Filipino-American with large circular eyes. “There’s no out. So even in the middle of the night. We might think ‘What do you think of this? Or what if we did that?’”

But they wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I love that we live where we work,” says Bachmaier, 36, a petite German with a dark brown pixie cut. “I’m not looking for a separation of those two.”

This is how their serene installations and gentle demeanors deceive. Although their art pieces and whispery voices tend to lull the viewer and listener into deep repose, they live to work extremely hard.
Professionalism seems to permeate every aspect of their lives. For instance, Bachmaier and Gallero refer to themselves as “partners.” In their case, they are literal partners, having collaborated as an art team over the last 11 years.

“I would say she’s my partner first and foremost, because that’s how we connect and that’s how we stay connected,” Gallero says. “I think that is the hierarchy that we have here—partner in creative crime rather than spouse.”

It’s a partnership that they have patiently honed over the years after meeting as students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1999. Bachmaier was deconstructing a phonograph player for a Dada-esque solo performance, but Gallero’s roommate accidentally broke it. Having grown up tinkering with electronics, Gallero was able to get the machine back to decent shape.

“I was throwing a monkey wrench into that whole gear system with me coming on board and being in her life,” Gallero says. “I had to say, ‘You can trust me,’ and she had to open up a bit as well.”

He was immediately intrigued by Bachmaier’s work, however. Fascinated by odd vinyl records of animal noises and foreign language lessons, Bachmaier was transforming herself into a multi-armed phonographic creature who would manually play records with a gramophone speaker on her head.

During the next year, 2000, Gallero visited Bachmaier in her native Germany. Their relationship developed and they married in Chicago. Later, as an art team, they started calling themselves Luftwerk (pronounced “looft wurk”) to brand themselves with something memorable. “Luft” is German for air. Bachmaier believes light, a predominant medium in their work, resembles air. “Werk” is German for work, workplace or a studio.

They received their first commission for a private event in 2003 for “Skywall,” a 10-ton wall of ice blocks with video projections of clouds. In 2009 they became full-time artists and now make a living off two to three large commissions each year. Their projects have included everything from an interactive camping trip video customized for autistic children to an advertisement installation for the Japanese retail chain Muji on monitors inside New York City’s Kennedy International Airport.

Last year, they were selected as featured artists for Chicago Artists Month, an annual event hosted by the Chicago Office of Tourism and Culture, for their installation at the centennial celebration of another Frank Lloyd Wright residence, the Frederick C. Robie House, in Hyde Park. Despite their success, Bachmaier and Gallero know a long-term collaboration isn’t easy.

“Artists are solitary figures with ego, and to work with another artist is a pretty big undertaking, and to do it successfully, that’s unbelievable,” Gallero says.

“We’re both stubborn,” Bachmaier admits. “It’s over time, we learned how to work with each other.”

Today, they’ve got their respective roles down solid—he’s the tech expert and she’s the primary conceptualist, although they do switch duties occasionally. Bachmaier typically starts their projects by researching and then sketching basic ideas. Gallero, who is largely self-taught, then brings those ideas to fruition through software programs.

“He has many talents, while I have a tendency to be a single vision person, so it’s a good match,” Bachmaier says.


Last year while planning for Fallingwater’s 75th anniversary gala, Fallingwater Director Lynda Waggoner knew she needed something extraordinary to pay tribute to the architectural icon.

“It’s difficult to interact with Fallingwater, because Fallingwater interacts so well with its site,” she says. “What more can one say?”

Like Luftwerk, she was well aware of the challenges the site presents for any artist attempting to pay homage. For starters, the performance had to be held outdoors, as the residence (today a National Historic Landmark) could not hold all 300 of the expected guests. But even the outdoor space had limited capacity—not enough room for an orchestra, for example. In any case, live music would get drowned out by the famous waterfall that runs below Fallingwater.

Eventually Waggoner concluded that only one art form could interact with the façade of the building in a refreshing way without possibly damaging it—video projection art, which she refers to as “video mapping.”

“Video mapping has the ability to take the architectural elements of a building and morph the surface of the building into something else,” Waggoner says. “It’s a new medium of expression.”

She found Luftwerk through her art world contacts and after meeting the duo in February, decided they had the right sensibility for the project. Luftwerk and Wright, in fact, share many similarities in their work. With his “organic architecture” approach, Wright sought to elevate the elegance of the sites he built on, partly by incorporating a building’s locality into its design.

His Prairie-style homes were low and wide, made to blend into the flat Midwestern landscape. At Fallingwater, the cantilevered terraces mimic the cliff on which the residence was built. In an interview with broadcaster Mike Wallace in 1957, Wright said, “I'd like to have architecture that belonged where you see it standing, and as a grace to the landscape….”

Luftwerk’s art, too, has been greatly inspired by site. Their first official collaboration, 2000’s “Sea Light in the Night,” was an installation located at a hotel for sailors. Bachmaier was finishing graduate school at the University of Fine Arts of Hamburg and wanted her final project to reflect the city and its harbor.

“I wanted to do something that speaks about the city,” she says. “It is a harbor town, but we hardly recognize sailors as they come and go every day.”

With the help of the hotel’s owner and a local shipping company, audience members were brought in by boat to view the Super-8 film installation from the water.

Both Wright and Luftwerk also developed their love of nature early. Wright grew up surrounded by the beauty of the Wisconsin countryside. As a child, Bachmaier explored forests in rural areas not too far from Munich. Gallero grew up in the Bronx, and was fascinated by urban nature—reflections on glass, cracks in the concrete where plants emerged, and abandoned buildings with lit façades.

Today Luftwerk depicts nature through a technologically advanced lens.

“I think for the most part, we are trying to emulate nature because it is the greatest show on earth,” Gallero says. “She’s a master artist.”

For their sculptural installation “Seablossoms,” which premiered at a private event in Chicago in 2008, they projected video of waves and water reflections onto a 28-by-40-foot canopy of silk lotus flowers. Similarly in 2003 with “Skywall” they projected video of clouds onto a 40-by-30 foot wall of 300-pound ice blocks. Sheets of cloth were frozen in the middle of the ice blocks so that video could be projected off them.

Now Fallingwater trustees have presented Bachmaier and Gallero with one of their most demanding projects to date, given the technical precision that is required, and the forested, historic site of Fallingwater.

“It’s a challenge how to find new ways to look at something with which we’re so familiar,” Waggoner says.


In February Luftwerk made its first trip out to Fallingwater in southwestern Pennsylvania. Bachmaier recalls her initial impressions vividly.

“I thought it was extremely poetic and romantic and I was really moved,” she says. “It was very strong, powerful, yet gentle. It lives in the landscape.”

As typically occurs with their projects, Bachmaier began researching the site through books, the Internet and a librarian friend who sent critical essays. Soon Bachmaier began sketching storyboards, animation-like drawings accompanied by notes.

In June Bachmaier and Gallero drove out to Fallingwater on a second trip—this time to conduct video projection tests on Fallingwater’s surfaces and to consider how to set up their equipment. One of their greatest challenges early on was figuring out just where to place their projectors. The forest floor was simply too soft and uneven.

Fallingwater’s maintenance staff suggested placing projectors in tree stands—elevated platforms normally used by deer hunters. Luftwerk climbed 25-foot tall trees and tested their projectors, along with lighting equipment to understand what levels of brightness were necessary. They discovered they could save money with dimmer lighting, because unlike urban settings, a forest affords a pitch black background. Then they headed back to Chicago to research about a dozen types of projectors they could rent.

“It’s really a puzzle of what gear you use,” Gallero says. “[We had to] think logistically of putting projectors in trees, the size and weight of projectors, balancing out brightness, size, flexibility and lens capability.”

After several weeks of research and deliberations in July, they chose to use as many as eight projectors of assorted sizes and models, because the various depths of Fallingwater’s terraces require different resolutions and brightness levels.

“It’s like creating a painting but you’re using different brands of oil paint,” Gallero says. “Some have more viscosity. Some maybe dry faster.”

The trick in most of Luftwerk’s oeuvre has been creating stunning experiences that appear simplistic, but as the Fallingwater project has proven, are rather intricate.


Inside Luftwerk’s studio, the mood is part sci-fi, part supernatural. Helix shapes of white light pirouette vigorously against a miniature foam board model of Fallingwater, while eerie music with droning synthesizer notes from minimalist composer Steve Reich plays quietly in the background. August has arrived and the team is fast at work.

A frequent collaborator named Liviu Pasare, 30, sits next to Gallero, as both men study two flat-screens and video projections on the model in front of them. Just six weeks shy of the gala, they are discussing technical specifications for the Fallingwater project—what equipment to use and how to program the show with software.

“It’s been a slog getting the technical aspects of this, trying to throw projections in every niche and corner that needs to be there,” Gallero later admits.

Pasare is Luftwerk’s go-to guy for all things supremely technical. A lean, academic-looking Romanian, he’s clicking ferociously away at a software program called Isadora, which organizes motion graphics and allows for real-time control of digital video during performances via a keyboard or mouse.

By turning virtual knobs and entering numbers into boxes on his screen, Pasare controls the playback speed and shapes of the videos being projected. If you were to stumble across his conversation with Gallero at this moment, you might mistake them for a pair of mathematicians, given all the numbers they are discussing.

“The challenge is having eight projectors and two computers, 1024 x 768 HD resolution,” the amiable Pasare says in his jagged brogue. “The computers are going to be limited in how much they can handle, so we’re looking at different software that may take advantage of different computer features and processing power.”

Pasare also must ensure the group has several backup plans in case things go awry during the show.

“Glitches occur because I guess it’s like anything else in life,” he says. “You walk to the store and you want to buy a jug of milk, but they may not have it. It’s something that you cannot really predict.”

Currently Plan A is eight projectors and one computer. If a projector falters, they will head to Plan B, switching to a different projector that accomplishes the same thing, or switching to two or three computers. Plan C would minimize equipment so that the group only has six or seven projectors.

Once the trio arrives at Fallingwater the week before the gala to install equipment, they will have to whittle it down to just two plans. All that’s left to do now is actually design the show.


Five short weeks before the gala, Luftwerk is creating content for the Fallingwater show in the software programs Motion (from Apple) and After Effects (from Adobe), and matching their motion graphics to accompanying music.

They have purposefully strayed from the subdued designs they presented last year at Wright’s Robie House. There they projected motion graphics that resembled wooden Froebel blocks—children’s toys—because Wright believed they helped him understand the geometry of architecture as a child. For Fallingwater, however, Waggoner desired something dramatic and active—a show.

“This is not conceptual anymore,” Bachmaier says. “This is pure form and geometry inspired by site.”

The first of three chapters has already been finalized and appears now on the Fallingwater model as hundreds of white light boxes that flit like Vegas marquees. Called the “dynamic” chapter, the first chapter reflects the energy of the waterfall beneath Fallingwater as well as the shape of the cantilevered terraces. These motion graphics match a composition in which two marimbas—mellower cousins of the xylophone—busily build to a crescendo.

Luftwerk approached the composer of this marimba piece, Owen Clayton Condon, after seeing him perform locally in May. The Chicago ensemble he performs with called Third Coast Percussion, also played at Wright’s Unity Temple in Oak Park last year and will be performing at Wright’s former residence, Taliesin, in Wisconsin later this month.

Luftwerk found his compositions to be sophisticated, clear and abstract enough to match the geometric designs of their show, yet accessible enough to appeal to a general audience.

“I like that it’s not narrative,” Bachmaier says. “A lot of music tries to evoke emotion. I feel his music evokes thought, mindfulness.”

The second chapter, the “organic” chapter, contrasts the first by depicting the serenity and subtlety of the site through organic abstractions and colors indigenous to the region. This chapter will be accompanied by a lighter, softer musical section. The show will end with a climactic release when projections will spread off the building onto surrounding foliage.

Once completed, Luftwerk’s motion graphics will then be added to a cohesive timeline in Apple’s software program Final Cut Pro, which is used to edit film and video. The entire show will last just seven minutes, something short enough to keep an audience’s attention, but long enough to carry a narrative arc.

Similar to the works of renowned environmental art duo Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Luftwerk’s projects are ephemeral, and only exist in the long-term in photographs and video recordings.

“We’ve been wrapping our minds to make something more lasting,” Bachmaier says, laughing. “Maybe that’s what Luftwerk embodies, a temporary piece.”

The seven-minute Fallingwater show will be played five times at most, with each showing separated by a five to 10-minute break. Eight and a half months of preparations and tireless work, and it all comes down to this—one night, one hour.


What then makes all that hard work worth it?

Their answers correspond to their roles in Luftwerk. The technology inspires both Gallero and Pasare. “With projection it’s this idea of source light and lumens going into a space and catching all this material to surface, reaching for it,” Gallero says. “That travel from light in space to surface, I think that’s utterly magical.”

Pasare, who began his undergraduate studies at the Art Institute in painting and drawing in 2002, switched to art and technology studies in his second year after seeing the works of video artists such as Bill Viola, who was the subject of a retrospective at the Art Institute in 1999.

Pasare believes video is far more successful than other mediums at affecting viewers. “For me, video in general, is more democratic,” he says. “People are used to watching TV. People go to the theater, but once you project it onto a building, it’s surprising.”

Concepts fuel Bachmaier. “I find inspiration and motivation through experiencing other people’s work,” she says. She cites British architect Thomas Heatherwick’s public art piece “Seed Cathedral” from the World Expo 2010 in Shanghai as an example. Bachmaier believes it effectively conveys a world heritage and what is required of humans to keep our ecosystem running.

Inspired by the Biomimicry movement, a new discipline in which innovators mimic natural forms and processes to promote more sustainable and healthier technologies and designs, Heatherwick took a massive seed collection and placed it in hundreds, if not thousands, of tiny glass tubes to form one massive, futuristic outdoor sculpture. With its spiky surface, visually, the sculpture shocks and screams.

“It was hugely inspirational,” she says. “I found it fascinating how he connected Biomimicry with space, and I thought, ‘Brilliant.’”

Other influences include gargantuan site-specific works such as the land art of Robert Smithson, especially “Spiral Jetty,” the 1,500-foot counterclockwise coil, made from mud, salt crystals, basalt rocks, earth and water on the northeastern shore of the Great Salt Lake.

“The immensity of landscape made it hard to relate to the site, but when we went to the Spiral Jetty and walked along the path of the spiral, it allowed me to connect with the landscape,” Bachmaier says. “That was a powerful moment to feel how this piece ties the human with nature.”

Not surprisingly, Frank Lloyd Wright inspired her the most for the Fallingwater project, both for his organic architecture technique and the overall intricacy of Fallingwater.

“When I think of Fallingwater, that’s Biomimicry already,” Bachmaier says. “He already understood how to mimic, take inspiration from nature. It’s a mind game. It has a lot of complexity and form. [For example] the stonework continues outside and inside so you have this continuity of space, informed by the site.”

Bachmaier has also dedicated her life to art, because she believes art offers escapism and allows an artist to demonstrate his or her beliefs creatively. She sought such refuge in art as a teenager in Germany in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, when violence unfolded on the world stage.

Although she recalls the excitement of viewing the Berlin wall crumble on television in 1989, she became disillusioned as the first Gulf War unraveled in the 1990s, German anti-imperialist terrorist groups such as the Red Army Faction set off bombs in Germany against business and political leaders, and she learned about World War II and her country’s past.

She created assemblages and idolized the nontraditional works of Fluxus and Dada artists, as they too had turned to art in response to the horrors of war. Later at the conceptual art-heavy school, the University of Fine Arts of Hamburg where performance art icon Marina Abramovic taught, Bachmaier studied the provocative works of Joseph Beuys.

Largely considered the most significant German artist of the post-World War II period, Beuys promoted direct democracy through referenda in his work, which included room-size installations and ritualistic performances that involved animals, felt, honey, fat and earth.

“I think I grew up an idealist believing in the greater good of everyone,” Bachmaier says. “[Later] I thought society doesn’t support this idea on a regular basis so then you become rebellious. You have to fight for human rights, against war. I feel like art does allow you to create places where you feel like maybe there’s a sanity in it or you can comment on a matter that matters to yourself.”

Some, like Pasare, believe video art specifically, can accomplish what few other mediums can. Curator Brian Reis, who invited Luftwerk to create the Robie House installation last year, says he could not envision any other art form interacting with architecture as well.

“I wanted something more about merging the two together, something that would become seamless,” he says.

Jeanne Dunning, a video artist whose works have been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Whitney and Venice Biennials, notes that since the origins of video art in the 1960s, conceptual artists have used video to document actions and extract certain responses.

“For me, using video had to do with things I wanted to show and reactions I wanted to elicit in people that I just couldn’t do with a still photograph,” she says. “There are things that you can only show with movement.”

For example, in one of her works, she highlighted the fetishism of toe sucking by filming the act. Dunning, like Luftwerk, also believes in the value of public art or works that exist outside of museums and galleries.

“There’s something really important about bringing work out into the world, public space so that people see it in a different way,” she says. “That can have a big impact on people. Just the fact that it’s unusual and it’s not part of their typical experience. It might get them to stop and pay attention to the environment around them.”

Ultimately, as technologically advanced as multimedia art like Bill Viola’s and Luftwerk’s can be, Bachmaier feels it can still move and inspire others.

“The intimacy you create,” Bachmaier says. “[That’s why] I was really drawn to the camera and projector. There was a certain atmosphere with the equipment itself. That’s a challenge, because people are desensitized. Our attention span is lower. And I think through particularly the way we work with video in combination with space or with sculpture, you add a sensory element to it, so people are not only seeing, but they can become one with it.”

Eva Silverman, director of arts and community engagement at the Chicago Office of Tourism and Culture, says Luftwerk has accomplished this goal. She served on the panel that selected Luftwerk for Chicago Artists Month last year and remembers Luftwerk’s installation at the Robie House as calming and gorgeous.

“People were struck by how beautiful it was and how it really highlighted the architecture of the house,” she says. “The experience was not just a visual experience, it was multisensory, because you felt surrounded by the experience. There were projections in multiple spaces and you had to walk through to experience it and there was a sound element.”

Although Luftwerk’s installations are inspired by technology, Bachmaier says she does not want that to be the focal point.

“I think that technology can also be a very human experience,” Bachmaier says. “…I don’t want my work to be technologically driven. It’s inspired by possibility.”


After a thorough testing of Isadora’s performance in playing back the Fallingwater show, Luftwerk has decided TouchDesigner is a much more suitable playback program. Isadora was created for smaller theatrical productions, while TouchDesigner has been used for large-scale productions such as those involving video mapping.

“[TouchDesigner is] similar, but much faster,” Pasare says, seated in Luftwerk’s studio. “It seems to be performing much better compared to Isadora.”

TouchDesigner plays the Fallingwater show back at about 48 frames per second, a frame rate that is about twice the speed of Isadora. Therefore, clips run with a higher resolution, three times that of high definition. Now two and a half weeks away from the gala, the show appears on the Fallingwater model with crisp lines while accompanying music—a medley of four of Condon’s compositions—plays in the background.

In the first “dynamic” chapter of the show, single marimba notes leap playfully, and the listener can envision cartoon frogs jumping across lily pads. On the model, white light lines flash one by one.

“For me it’s about establishing the horizontal and vertical lines of the building and the dominating shape, the rectangle,” Bachmaier says. “It’s an introduction. This is the building.”

Slowly the marimba notes are played faster and faster. Then multiple marimba melodies circle around one another like a swarm of bees while the white light lines populate the façade of the model.

“It’s bringing the lines of light to life,” Gallero says. “It’s also a way to establish the three dimensionality of the building to give the depth.”

In the second “organic” chapter, two marimbas are played at a placid pace and then bounce back and forth. Abstracted forms of tree branches and a waterfall drift across the model and then transform into photographic images of tree branches and a waterfall.

“The organic chapter is about the site,” Bachmaier says. “Animated lines suggest a waterfall and build up to reveal a photographic image of the actual stream Bear Run. That then morphs into multiple expanding rectangles. The house is an extension of the waterfall.”

The abstracted images were created in Motion and then blurred, manipulated with particle effect and animated to simulate natural movement. Most of the motion graphics in the show are abstracted images, because the team felt natural imagery would have been redundant since the building itself exists in nature and reflects nature.

In the third “finale” chapter, marimbas notes jump around merrily again, clanging like Christmas bells while wooden blocks clack like hoofs. The instruments are played faster and louder up to a crescendo. Neon-colored shapes appear on the façade. At Fallingwater, the show will then climax with video projections spreading onto nearby foliage, and fireworks bursting overhead.

“This is a more celebratory moment,” Gallero says. “Where you sit back, relax and enjoy the show.”

Now that the content has been created, Luftwerk is eager to see the project come to life on Fallingwater. Only a bit of tweaking for color, transitions and cleaner figures is needed.

“Ready to go soon,” Bachmaier says with a smile.

“We’ve just been planning for so long,” Pasare says. “I think it’s both exciting and relaxing for us to actually have that finalized and it’s a big relief.”

But for Gallero, the journey is far from its end.

“For me, the reality of the situation is the work is not over,” he says. “There’s minutia that needs to be taken care of and those things are very important. Just…keep the focus.”

Before leaving for Fallingwater, the group must complete a gear list and dummy check. It is essential that the group brings all necessary equipment and backup equipment as the closest hardware store to Fallingwater may be located many miles away.

“You have to bring the kitchen sink basically,” Gallero says.

Cables and equipment must also be stress-tested before being packed. The group is also somewhat concerned about weather conditions.

“It’s [supposed to] rain next week and then it clears up when we get there, but you never know,” Bachmaier says. “We’re hoping for cloudless skies. You want to see this with no umbrellas.”

The show is a rain or shine event, so Fallingwater’s maintenance crew has set up weatherproof boxes for the projectors.

Luftwerk is eager to get to the site, because the team has only seen what the show looks like on the white foam board model. Fallingwater’s southeastern façade features various surfaces such as stone, which may alter the look of the show. Also, the exact setup of projectors will not be tested until a few days before the gala since the model in their studio could not accommodate all eight projectors. This element of the unknown is partially what electrifies Luftwerk.

“We build on site,” Gallero says. “I think that is what excites and challenges us all creatively and intellectually.”

Last Friday Luftwerk trimmed their equipment list down to Plan A and Plan B setups, packed their projectors, and drove for 10 hours back to Fallingwater. They now have one week to install everything, rehearse and fine-tune the show. The anticipation is palpable.

“All the run up, preparation, exercising all of this, leads us to have really strong legs and really strong minds to jump that hurdle,” Gallero says. “For artists who work in this medium such as us, it’s done on site specifically for that time, property, space and I think that’s what draws us to keep on doing this just because it’s a different experience every time. We’d like this to live as a memory, as an experience even afterwards so that it becomes this entity that has a life and an afterlife.”


Tickets for Saturday night’s gala are $400 and tickets for Sunday night’s viewing are $10. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit and

Angela Shawn-Chi Lu is a Chicago-based writer and editor who has previously worked for Los Angeles magazine, MTV News, Venus Zine, The Deli magazine and All About Jazz. For more information, visit


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