Museum  October 8, 2019  Amy Funderburk

The Boundary-Pushing Dutch Collective Mixing Tech and Ecology

Photograph © 2019, James C. Williams

Studio Drift, Fragile Future 3, 2018. Dandelion seeds, metal electrical circuits, LED lights.

In English, “drift” means to float gently, yet in Dutch, it means “fierce.” 

Based in Amsterdam, the artist collective Studio Drift defies labels while pushing the boundaries of technology to realize their meditative ideas based on natural forms. Founded in 2007 by Dutch artists Ralph Nauta and Lonneke Gordijn, the collective now includes over 20 artists, engineers, and other creatives. Currently on display at the Mint Museum Uptown in Charlotte, NC, Studio Drift’s first solo museum exhibition outside of Europe includes three installations and two films.

Photograph © 2019, James C. Williams

Studio Drift, Coded Coincidence, 2019Wood, Plexiglas, Siemens technology, drywall, paper box shapes.

Nauta and Gordijn will travel to the museum over the course of the show to develop their work-in-progress, Coded Coincidence, which premieres at the Mint. Ultimately, viewers will walk through a large chamber filled with wind blowers and small paper box shapes. For this evolving installation, the artists were inspired by swirling elm tree seeds that demonstrate what Gordijn calls “natural coincidence.” 

After witnessing how the seeds fall and then pile up with no apparent destination, the artists noted how important environment is to the evolution of a species, as some of the seeds came to coincidental locations. Gordijn applies such natural coincidence to the human condition, noting that having new, unexpected experiences can encourage expansion. “We need those coincidences in our lives,” she adds. What Nauta and Gordijn see in nature, they see in themselves.

Photograph © 2019, James C. Williams

Studio Drift, Fragile Future 3, 2018. Dandelion seeds, metal electrical circuits, LED lights.

Fragile Future 3 is a delicate work comprised of bronze electrical circuits that carefully house reconstructed dandelion heads. These glowing globes are made from hundreds of unpreserved seeds individually glued to LED lights. 

Amplitude is a large, mesmerizing installation in which the artists strike a careful equilibrium. The 20 glass rod wings reveal the technology behind the magic, but its undulating movement is reminiscent of flight, waves, or the flowing legs of a millipede. “We want to show all the technology in our works,” says Gordijn. “In Amplitude, for instance, you see the motors, you see the printed circuit board; you see everything.” Nauta has previously commented that their work references humanity’s struggle in a futuristic world, yet their pieces look elegant and effortless. “The struggle is in the process,” Gordijn clarifies. “The tricks that look the [easiest] are most of the time the [hardest] to execute,” Nauta adds. “It’s that effortless feeling of potential movement when so [many] elements come together that is the hardest thing to achieve.”

Photograph © 2019, James C. Williams

Ralph Nauta and Lonneke Gordijn with Amplitude, 2017. Glass, brass, motors, radio control.

A documentary film gives viewers a taste of Franchise Freedom. Inspired by the murmuration of starlings, this performance piece was executed with hundreds of flying lit drones. 

When Studio Drift started, Nauta explains that there were no easy ways to program light or mechanical movements, so they had to create their own electrical boards. He describes their approach as: “I want to achieve this–what do I need to get there?” They are nothing if not persistent: trying ideas again and again, their first drone project took ten years to fully realize. “The fact that we don’t feel or see any limitations doesn’t mean [that] we can do anything, but we do want to push things forward,” says Gordijn. Technology is never where they begin, however. “The starting point is always what it means to feel...the experience that we want to put down, and the excitement between us,” Gordijn explains.

While art is traditionally seen as a solitary pursuit, as Gordijn powerfully states, “By ourselves we are nothing.” They aren’t always certain who originated an idea, and each has to convince the other to begin a potential project. “These are our children, the combination of both of us,” Nauta shares. “We don’t compromise,” says Gordijn. “We have the model of consensus; we have to both fully agree.”

Photograph © 2019, Amy Funderburk

Studio Drift, Coded Coincidence, 2019. Wood, Plexiglas, Siemens technology, drywall, paper box shapes.

Several works speak to Nauta’s interest in science fiction. In Drifters, a surreal film by Studio Drift and Sil van der Woerd, a concrete block floats slowly above the Scottish Highlands, seeking its origin. The film conjures a world with no desire for individuality, and illustrates the concept of the artists’ collective.

Gordijn believes that changing the way we treat the earth has become increasingly urgent, and despite social media connections, more people feel isolated. “We feel there is a need for physical…[and] communal experiences. I think the works that we make are the needs that we feel.” 

Regarding their larger artistic goals, Gordijn says, “I think how we can save the world is to reestablish that connection [with nature]; it means that we really feel a part of our environment, [and] that we want to take care of it….” For Nauta, “It starts with the power of creativity.”

About the Author

Amy Funderburk

Amy Funderburk is a professional artist and freelance arts writer based in Winston-Salem, NC, specializing in visionary works in which she explores the intersection of the physical with the more fluid, spiritual and emotional realms. She works out of the Sternberger Artists Center in Greensboro, NC, and maintains a blog, Drinking from the Well of Inspiration, to provide deeper insight into her creative process. Follow her on twitter: @AFunderburkArt and on Instagram: @AmyFunderburkArtist.

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