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How Studio Drift Blends Nature with Technology to Build Kinetic Works of Art

Lonneke Gordijn has been captivated by dandelions since growing up as a child in the Netherlands. She would spend hours drawing the flowers — when not feeding them to her hungry rabbits. As an adult, after graduating from Design Academy Eindhoven, dandelions entered her life once again. This time they helped ignite her artistic career as she founded Studio Drift alongside her creative partner, Ralph Nauta.

Creating intricate, thought-provoking architectural projects and site-specific light installations since 2007, Studio Drift is a workshop which doesn't shy away from complex ideas that might seem contradictory at first glance, but when examined in detail are not as incompatible as they might appear. The interplay between technology and the natural world — and the collision of the two — informs much of their work. In their Ghost Collection, which uses laser and 3D image-capture technology to fashion tiny air bubbles inside imperially-inspired transparent Plexiglas chairs, organically shaped “ghost" silhouettes were created beneath the surface.

Studio Drift is a workshop which doesn't shy away from complex ideas that might seem contradictory at first glance, but when examined in detail are not as incompatible as they might appear.

A Unique Approach to Design and Sculpture

In 20 Steps is another example of the studio's unique aesthetic approach to sculpture. This dynamic installation takes the concepts of movement illustrated by Eadweard Muybridge's iconic The Horse in Motion photograph series, and runs with it, substituting images of a galloping horse with a series of gorgeous, real-life suspended glass wings depicting the various stages of a bird in flight — and humanity's age-old yearning to mimic that flight.

The Carpenters Workshop Gallery, with locations in London, Paris, New York and San Francisco and which Gordijn and Nauta have been working with since 2009, was one of the first design galleries to let them showcase their interdisciplinary work unconstrained. Being able to present their ideas, without having to box their installations inside traditional artistically defined spaces, has given them more freedom to explore the contrasts and interplay between nature and hard science.


Electrifying Dandelions

This amalgamation of nature and technology colliding together to create a totally new entity is brilliantly expressed in Fragile Future (see image below). Gordijn's fascination with dandelions brought this installation, which won the German Design Council's Light of the Future award, to life. One day she picked a dandelion from her garden and began to mess around with it. “I took the seeds off and saw that the stem of that flower was exactly the same size as an LED," she says. “What happens when I glue the seeds to the LED light?" With this thought in mind, she carefully stuck the seeds to the light with glue to find out. After flipping the tiny, seed-laden light on, “something magical happened" which sparked her initial interest in blending natural components with electrical and manmade systems.
 

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“Until that moment, I always saw nature as the opposite of technology," Gordijn said. She recognised that these two seemingly contrasting elements have to come together to build a better future for us all. This concept became the philosophical foundation of Studio Drift. Dandelions aren't fragile, but actually quite strong, and are made to survive. Their little parachute seeds launch out into the world, each seed carrying with it the promise of a new life. Gordijn, Nauta and their team use tweezers to painstakingly paste the seeds, one by one, to LED lights. The lights, with the dandelion seeds now grafted on, are attached to wiry bronze electrical circuits, giving this modular system its distinct shape, which can change depending on where the system is being installed.

“Until that moment, I always saw nature as the opposite of technology," Gordijn said. She recognised that these two seemingly contrasting elements have to come together to build a better future for us all. This concept became the philosophical foundation of Studio Drift.

People have asked them, since they've been working with site-specific iterations of Fragile Future for years, if they've found an easier method for dealing with the dandelions. The answer is no - the flowers can't be cultivated or harvested in a garden setting, but rather need to be picked anew in fields every year. “A dandelion is very wild," Gordijn says. “It doesn't want to be pushed in a direction. It makes its own choices."
 

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Examining Movement and Technology in a Different Light

Studio Drift is constantly examining patterns in nature, and bringing them to bear in concert with, or contrast to, human technology. In Materialism, mass-produced objects, including an old Volkswagen Beetle and an iPhone, are deconstructed, then reconstituted into blocks of their elemental parts (42 different materials for the Beetle). With their short film Drifters, they document hauntingly austere concrete monoliths — not unlike those in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey — magically floating through the Scottish Highlands, in search of their place in the world.

“We're not having relationships with the materials and objects around us anymore," Nauta describes in the trailer for Materialism. “If you start losing the connection with this, you're going to be very unhappy, because you lose the wonder in life."

The creative projects the Dutch duo gravitate toward originate from their passion for light and movement in different contexts. Fragile Future, whether set up in relation to a San Sebastiano painting by Andrea Mantegna in Venice or installed inside the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, speaks to how nature and technology can move closer together. Franchise Freedom takes Studio Drift's attraction to flight, and mixes it with light, painting a union of the two across the night sky with a troupe of illuminated drones performing an airborne ballet. Inspiration comes from everything in the world around them, happening right now.


Designing for the Future

The American historian and social critic Arthur Schlesinger once said that “science and technology revolutionise our lives, but memory, tradition and myth frame our response". Studio Drift's work examines, destructs and then reassembles the evolution of our desire to move and connect with others by looking at who we are, the deep-rooted memories of where we came from in relation to the machines we've built to enhance our modern existence (like the airplanes that transport us across continents, bringing us closer together), and ultimately how these technologies will lead us into the future.

By experimenting with the reproduction of infinity, and the will to survive that's in everything, Gordijn and Nauta infuse motion into the objects they create. “If you work with movement, it resonates with people," Gordijn explains. “People can tune in to it, and become part of it." Through movement in art, Studio Drift gets to study and discover how the world functions, which fascinates them to no end.

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