STUDIO DRIFT, sculpting the relationship between humans and nature
Studio Drift was founded in 2007 by Lonneke Gordijn and Ralph Nauta. Their work explores the relationships between humans, nature and technology through a variety of methods, most often manifesting as a variation on sculpture or installation. The work is catalysed by a desire to explore nuance, aesthetics and experiential aspects of viewership relating to the intersection of Gordijn’s fascination with nature and Nauta’s with science fiction and technology – most often leading to the production of works that inhabit site-specific spaces in uncanny fashions.
Drifter, one of the studio’s most well-known pieces, plays with these relationships in a visually arresting fashion. Consisting of a four by two by two meter concrete-like cuboid floating within a three-sided white enclosure, the site-specific piece appears to defy physics, with no visible supports or mechanisms in place. This is where the dichotomy between Gordijn and Nauta’s explorations is able to find it’s particular ability to encourage the re-examination of space.
The block appears to be concrete, if a block of its size is concrete and able to float in a seemingly unassisted manner within a gallery space, gravity is being challenged. Gravity, as we understand it, cannot be present in that space. We are put into a position where either the existence of gravity is questioned or, our understanding of gravity is subverted through human-made technologies. The assumed physicality of our living space is interrogated in a way that creates a sense of lightness within the viewer, as well as a sense of awe – the use of scientific methods to produce an unnatural state of being and our human connection to our environment providing the tools through which to parse it, both consciously and unconsciously.
In 20 Steps, a recent piece that was also shown in conjunction with Iris Van Herpen’s Syntopia collection, Studio Drift explore the human desire to fly through the construction of twenty delicate glass wings, representing the physical steps of flight in an abstract form. The installation is indicative of the relationships that the studio was founded to explore, the idea that through the use of contemporary technologies, we could come to satisfy our fascinations with or experiences of the natural world. It appears to exist with a desire to push back against our inherent physical limitations, to empower the human experience through the exploration of technological and scientific progression.
Progression, as a word, is emblematic of the Studio Drift’s work. Avoiding science fiction tropes, skirting the often limiting world of art-as-a-science-experiment, Drift instead utilise technology and research as a means of providing experiential constructions. The experimental nature of their work, coupled with a clear decision to not include obvious indications of production methods or installation, provides the viewer with an empowering experience. Something that not only makes one aware of their own humanity but also the progress of humanity, the inherent desire for knowledge and to better inhabit the environment in which we live present within human nature.
Words by Allan Gardner
You both have a background in design and your practice focus in creating interactive installations, sculptures, objects and films, blending the latest science fiction inspired hi-tech developments and their poetic imagery? How and when the interest in the different disciplines and media comes about?
From our childhood we have been fascinated how in nature (Lonneke) and science fiction (Ralph) solutions can be discovered that tell us that we are more part of the natural system then we often realize. How we behave, make choices, what we develop, what we make, what drives us and why we feel certain things, are very much reflected in everything that we consider nature around us. Almost everything on earth has the same drive and cycle of existence. We are all part of the same evolution. Technology, Architecture, Art, everything we develop, successes or failures, exist in the same system of striving towards progress and comes from a driving force that makes that we want to rise above ourselves. We believe that we can recognize ourselves in moving natural phenomena, they might go in faster or slower speeds than our own but have the same patterns. We can tune into these surroundings and become part of the environment. In this way we are able to establish connections between man and environment that are more meaningful and it makes us aware of the role we can play, of the direction we are working towards and of the media we choose to work with.
One of your projects is a kinetic lighting installation of moving glass tubes that you showcased in Iris Van Herpen’s Syntopia collection. Syntopia tried to replicate the feathers and soundwave patterns of birds. Could you tell us the intellectual process behind your installation?
The installation ‘In 20 Steps’ was originally developed for an old glass factory on Murano for the Biennale in Venice in 2015. For Iris van Herpen’s show, we adapted the sculpture’s behaviour and choreographed its movements to blend with the movements of the models. The sculpture, the light, the women and Iris collection became one organism. The 20 delicate glass wings of which the spatial kinetic installation is constructed, represent -in an abstract way- the principle of flying, or is it the movement of the sea? Isn’t almost every movement whether it is in nature, or generated by technology based on the same physics? The glass emphasizes the fragility of the movement and of nature itself. The movements break the natural light in the glass and transform the sculpture into an almost liquid state of being.
Drifter is one of your acclaimed projects. It presents a rotating massive concrete block that poetically appears to float in the space defying all sense of gravity. What were the biggest challenges you faced in its development?
Making a block of concrete float is not really possible within the law of physics. To ignore this fact and make this happen was our biggest challenge. And then to make it in such a way that the people, including ourselves, believe it when you see it. Luckily it was in the end quite easy to feel a connection with the block, as it became a personality with its own will and specific behaviour. It turned out that this floating block felt much more natural to us then when you would put the block on the floor, turning it back into a lifeless object. This makes us question if architecture and the environment that we build should be lifeless? Will we not all feel better when, like in nature, everything around us is moving and constantly changing?
You practice also encompasses a marked exploration of different materials. There’s a large amount of research on what is called, Future materials such as auto-healing concrete and a myriad of biomaterials. What are for you the most exciting of these new materials and material combinations?
We like to use raw materials in their most honest and purest appearance, so no artificial colours or lacquered finishes. We like to show the technology that we use, and not hide printed circuit boards or motors under a surface. The idea is that you see the technological components, but not get the feeling that it feels distant or inhuman. But most of all we like it when a material has hardly any materiality. Like clouds, hairs, waterdrops and air. We are getting more closely to these sort of substances that can be made by man. Very exciting!
Where do you see taking your work into?
With our work, we strive to re-establish the connection between humans and Earth. The performative character of our work is increasing and we develop experiences, animated spaces and choreographed sculptures that unite people on a deep level and allow them to get in tune with themselves, their environment and other people. Light and movement play a big role in this process. We keep on exploring this topic deeper and expand to outdoor spaces and natural environments to create the biggest impact.
What is your chief enemy of creativity?
Being in control and lacking time, sleep and health.
You couldn’t live without…
Plants, the sun and love.
(All media courtesy of the artists)