Solarise installation lights up Garfield Conservatory area


Santiago Covarrubias

Luftwerk Solarise: Florescence (transparent acrylic, suspension wire) at the Garfield Park Conservatory.

By Arts & Culture Reporter

“Solarise,” a series of site-responsive light and sculpture installations created by Luftwerk—the artistic collaboration of Petra Bachmaier and Sean Gallero—is on display at the Garfield Park Conservatory, 300 N. Central Park Ave., through Sept. 22, 2016. 

The exhibit, which began on Sept. 23, features installations responding dynamically to atmospheric conditions like the wind velocity and the sunlight that streams through solar panels on the conservatory’s rooftop, Bachmaier said.

According to an Aug. 12 City of Chicago press release, the rooftop panels create colorful shadows throughout the conservatory during the day, storing solar energy to illuminate LED lights on the rooftop at night. 

Initially proposed in 2012, “Solarise” has been carefully refined by Luftwerk throughout the last several years. The exhibit will run through 2016, but its beacon—a chain of LED nodes attached to the conservatory’s exterior—is a permanent fixture. The beacon shines every evening from sunset to 11 p.m. The conservatory is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., except on Wednesdays, when it closes at 8 p.m. 

Unlike, Lincoln Park Conservatory, which is located near the lakefront, The Garfield Park Conservatory receives fewer visitors and less acknowledgment.

“The [Garfield] conservatory is one of the greatest gems in Chicago, [but] it’s in an area that’s not well-traveled,” Bachmaier said. “An exhibit like this can help people appreciate the landmark more.”

Public art gives meaning to simple spaces by lending them emotional resonance that might not have developed otherwise, said Jack C. Newell, an artist working on “The Wabash Lights,” a similar project that will be installed underneath the elevated train tracks on Wabash Avenue.

“For example, a lot of times people don’t love their favorite restaurant because of the food alone, but because of the happy memories they’ve had there,” he said. “If we can encourage people to come to a space and experience something together, then we can make it a meaningful place.”

“The Wabash Lights” will feature 5,000 LED light tubes, which will be programmable by the public via a web-based application, according to Newell.

“Public spaces are there for everybody to use, engage in, and to connect with each other in,” Bachmaier added. “I’m very interested in how we can intervene to improve that connection.”

“Solarise” also features several interior exhibits in four of its display houses, the Show House, the Desert House, the Horticulture Hall and the Fern Room, according to the press release. 

The Show House—known for its spectacular flowers—features “Florescence,” a canopy that uses solar panels to cast colorful shadows, revealing the spectrum of light necessary for plant growth. “Prismatic,” located in the desert house, refracts natural and LED lighting and is accompanied by a sound installation using plant material.

Additionally, “Seed of Light” highlights the interaction between light and water by throwing a ripple of shadows across the Horticulture Hall floor. “Portal” accentuates the Palm House’s reflection pond and the Fern Room’s waterfall via a collection of mirrored panels.

“We’ve worked very hard, and we’re very fortunate to have the support of the Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance for this project,” she said.

“It offers a very unique experience,” said Matthew Barrett, Deputy Director of Conservatories for the Chicago Park District. “It’s an awesome exhibit that’s so hard to explain in words. It’s really something you have to come see.”

Solarise  opened Sept. 23 and will remain on display until Sept. 22, 2016. For more information, visit