Dialogue with Petra Bachmaier and Sean Gallero, of Luftwerk

Fall 2010: v.06 n.02: Dynamic Coupling

 “Sea Light in the Night” (detail, 2000) Luftwerk.

Sea Light in the Night (detail, 2000) Luftwerk.

The building is the Seaman’s Mission Hotel along the Elbe River in the port city of Hamburg, Germany. Seamen from all over the world stay one or two nights here before embarking on the ocean for several months, away from their country, family, and culture. The images projected are of seamen and the waters that they travel. 20 separate super 8 projectors were placed in the hallways of the building.
Documentation: http://www.luftwerk.net/sealight.htm

How much time do you spend together? Do you live together or share a studio, or do you just get together to work on projects as they come up?

We live and work together.

When you are working on something do you schedule structured time together in a physical space, or meet online, or is it more organic than that?

PB: As of last year, 2009, we both work full-time on our projects. We generally structure our time like working business hours 9am – 5pm. Within the set time frame, we collaborate organically, and creative work is far more time demanding than a regular workday.

SG: It is a mixture of set schedules, organic and individual time frames depending on the projects at hand.

Do you keep your personal/professional lives separate, or have they become seamless and indistinct? Is this okay?

PB: Our private/professional lives coexist, would not be possible otherwise.

SG: There is no separation.

Can you, or do you, turn off your research/studio practice(s)?

PB: Research is ongoing.

SG: Observing and experiencing all around us, all the time.

When and how did you meet each other and under what circumstances?

PB: We met at SAIC. I created an audio performance piece that involved multiple record players of which one broke. A classmate referred me to Sean, as he is technically well versed and could easily repair it. In a way we met via a broken record player.

At what point did you start making work together?

SG: After graduating SAIC in 2000, in Germany for her thesis project – “Sea Light in the Night” – a collaborative relationship developed where each of our own experiences and talents merged and found a single voice. Her vision and my human dimension completed the project.

Was there a growing period, when you had to get a feel for each other’s process/priorities, learn how to communicate – or did you click right away?

PB: We clicked right away. We share a deep understanding of each other’s objectives and aesthetics.

SG: Our relationship and our artwork continually grow and evolve; communication and understanding for one another has been there since day one.

Do you gravitate towards roles in your practice – based on strengths, or personality, or skills? Or is every project a different kind of adventure?

PB: Every project is unique and invites new challenges. Yes, we take general roles based on skills and personality. Technical tasks remain predominantly Sean’s challenge.

SG: While ideas, research and concepts originate with Petra, she initiates the idea, I make sure it’s level, we sculpt it, she makes sure it stays true to substance and I make sure it’s true to form.

How do you generate the concepts you work with? Do you draw, write, photograph, or do any sort of regular background practice? Is this a shared thing?

PB: I take inspiration from my immediate surroundings, materials, observations, research, reading etc. And over time we have developed a shared interest and fascination with the visual and scientific play of various elements.

SG: We record the natural world through writings, lenses, renderings and experiences – it is a regular practice of ours to just go out and visually record light, shadow, colors and elements.

How do you make choices and negotiate decisions about what direction to take with projects?

PB: It is a push and pull to find a harmonious balance. It is trusting in each other’s instinct towards that singular vision.

Does your collaboration ever involve more people? If no, why not? If yes, then when and how does that work?

PB: Our projects have often involved people (creative directors, performers, artists, friends, technicians) all on a similar artistic platform, more of a community of artists, not necessarily collaboration.

Will you describe a project that didn’t work out or you didn’t follow through on? Can you describe something that you couldn’t agree on or you didn’t feel like you were both “into?”

PB: In 2001 we participated in a site-specific performance event. It was at that moment that I felt a shift in my artwork. Rather than show a piece I felt I had no connection with, I removed myself and Sean performed that evening. Since then I have specifically been creating multi-media installations stepping away from performance art.

What kinds of singular processes or practices, studio or research, do you maintain as individuals that you may or may not bring into the collaboration?

PB: I attend conferences and lectures on green technology, architecture, networking events, small business workshops, and trade shows. I generally like looking for various opportunities where our artwork can have an impact in unexpected ways. I like looking for non-traditional platforms for our artwork.

SG: I am always learning that technical curve, from web, video, graphics, hands-on DIY projects, etc.…

Do you make your own work in addition to the collaborative work, and what sort of need does this fill?

SG: Late-night sound pieces.

If you maintain an individual practice as well as a collaborative practice, have you run into conflicts of interest, time-management/priority issues, or experienced communication problems due to multiple focuses at any point? How is this resolved?

SG: None

What are the strengths in working collaboratively and what are the challenges in working collaboratively?

PB: The challenge is interdependency, a fine line of individuality and collaborative notion. A collaborative process in the beginning always raises questions of identity and ownership, coming to a place where these issues become insignificant took some time. We established Luftwerk as a unified identity and platform for our collaborative vision. Owning a small art business diminishes the interdependency; it is no longer about two individuals but more about one entity.

SG: Collaboration strengthens the work. It becomes about the work.

What sort of theory, cultural circumstances, or life scenarios influence or inform your decision to work collaboratively? Would you say that your collaboration is philosophically driven, or more pragmatic?

SG: Inspired by examples of such. Always intrigued by collaborative elements in the art world. Maybe an affirmation that life and art exist in union.

PB: I agree.

Please point to us at a project or projects you would like to describe. Include links or attach files. If relevant, share with us a sense of the collaborative back-and-forth that may have gone into planning and making the work.

PB: “Sea Light in the Night” was my final presentation at the Art Academy in Hamburg, Germany. My initial intention was to create a film installation that reflects the city, its harbor and continuous coming and going of people. I explored various sites and destination points in the harbor area and came across the Seemannsmission, a Hotel for Seamen. The owner of the Hotel was intrigued that an art student would inquire about developing a site-specific installation that would involve access to the entire building while hosting guests. He eventually gave permission and became a true partner. I also approached the public transportation office, inquiring if they could offer a venue for a film installation. Weeks later, I received a letter from their office, referring me to the CEO of the local shipping company, HADAG. The company became a sponsor of the installation, and also provided one of its boats for our audience of professors, sailors and friends to view the film installation from water. I greatly enjoyed all the logistics of the project, but lost sight of making the actual work. Sean arrived in Hamburg a few weeks before the presentation, and his support became truly significant. His approach was only informed by a pure interest in the people we were to portray. Together we mingled in bars and arrival points for sailors from around the world, made friends and created a story line, we captured their portraits, images of water and horizon and transformed the windows of the Seemannsmission into rear projection screens. The piece was about creating a fleeting voice for those who travel and actually shape the soul of a harbor city. Sea Light in the Night became a starting point for our collaborative adventures. Sometimes I get lost in concept development and big ideas; Sean truly grounds the artistic practice. Together we enjoy exploring and transforming sites and spaces.

Luftwerk specializes in customized events, environments and scenic/set designs. They have developed creations for high profile international events, worked within theatrical productions and continuously explore their artistic medium. Their work has been exhibited within cultural institutions, galleries, public venues, and site-specific locations both nationally and internationally. Petra Bachmaier earned a BFA in 1999 from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and an MFA in 2000 from the Hamburg Academy of Arts with special honors. Sean Gallero, originally from New York City, received a BFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1999. Since 2000, both artists have collaborated in creating multiple art installations. They have gained recognition in various art forms over the years, including filmmaking, digital imaging, graphic and sound art, performance, and sculpture. Their choice of focusing on multi-media installations and projection designs came as a natural evolution where their varied skills flow together to create a contemporary form of expression.