“A new dialogue with an icon of modern architecture”
Luftwerk continues to build on their interest in architecture, design, and immersive art experiences with INsite, a site-specific installation at the Mies van der Rohe Farnsworth House and Museum. Luftwerk’s interest in developing an installation at the site grew after test projections revealed the building’s unique qualities. Mies van der Rohe’s design—emblematic of the International Style of architecture, which emphasizes straight lines, rigid cantilevers, and no ornamentation—underscores an expression of balance and a harmonious relationship with the natural world. INsite creates a new dialogue with an icon of modern architecture and invites the public to re-discover the Farnsworth House through an unadulterated experience of light.
What do you do with a revered masterwork of the 20th century?
Luftwerk casts INsite, as “an exploration of the philosophy of Mies through light.” The results are revelatory, reanimating our understanding and appreciation of this iconic structure.
INsite is a looping composition divided into three sections roughly corresponding to the structure of the house, the fluidity of its transparent glass walls, and the organic, where nature meets geometry. Luftwerk uses precision projection mapping, especially in the first movement, to highlight the horizontal structural steel beams that enable the glass walls to enclose the volume of the space with such an ethereal mass. Subsequent projection of abstracted patterns are like an artist’s MRI of the interior volume of Farnsworth, flooding it with images of fluidity created in their studio in a playful but systematic topographic investigation. In the last movement, color enters in and nature is projected within the volume of the house. dappled sense memories from the daytime meld with the structural outline of the house, transforming it.
In a sense there are two Farnsworth Houses. There is the one that most people get to experience during the day, and there is Farnsworth at night. During the day, Farnsworth hovers above the grassy landscape and the glass walls provide a transparent view that is also subtly hermetic. Even though there is no visual barrier, interior and exterior are sealed off from one another. You are in nature but not necessarily “amongst” it.
At night, Luftwerk’s projections literalize the hover quality of the structure, highlighting the horizontal steel beams supporting the house but virtually eliminating through absence of illumination any connection to the ground. The house becomes unmoored. From the inside there is an epidermal transformation. The glass skin becomes reflective and the space expands fractally toward the indefinite. But beyond the glow of refracted light there is no landscape, no nature, only a primeval dark.
There is a story here and it is one that Luftwerk wants you to experience not be told. If you could bottle the daytime Farnsworth, the magical feeling we all have as we walk around it, viewing from different angles, inside and out, and project it back on itself at night, without the “distraction” of the landscaping or the furniture – or the history – what would the house look like? How would it feel? The dots and squares and pixels are abstracted patterns of sunlight through the leaves of the overhanging trees and sunlight on water, referencing the nearby Fox River, the viscosity of glass, and the flow of time. What is Farnsworth now?
There is one other critical element to Luftwerk’s illuminating exploration of the philosophy of Mies, and it is the musical score of Owen Clay Condon. Condon uses a number of different instruments in his own sonic exploration of Farnsworth, but the key is his use of B as the resonant frequency of the physical distance between floor and ceiling – the height of the volume of Farnsworth. It is a sonification of the structure, which melds minimalist percussion with the otherworldly tones of a vibraphone to encourage a reverie of Farnsworth where past and present and future meet in a kaleidoscope of light and sound and remembrance and imagination.
What do you do with a revered 20th century masterpiece? You learn it. You map it. You illuminate it. You reflect it. You project onto it and into it. You play it. That’s INsite.
Owen Clayton Condon