A/D/O by MINI | Studio Drift: splicing nature and technology

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Studio Drift: splicing nature and technology

Lonneke Gordijn and Ralph Nauta imagine a future where natural phenomena and technological developments merge together in ever-more meaningful ways.

In a time when turning to the natural world feels like a refuge from the plethora of digital screens vying for our attention, it’s becoming easier to believe the false dichotomy of nature versus technology that’s so prevalent in our society. But the truth is that we are a part of nature and we develop technologies, so it’s nearly impossible to think about one without thinking about the other.

Lonneke Gordijn and Ralph Nauta of Amsterdam artist collective Studio Drift have been creating installations and sculptures that explore the intricate, interconnected and ever-evolving relationship between humans, nature and technology since they founded the studio in 2007. Their multidisciplinary works have been shown at renowned institutions such as the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam (which recently exhibited a comprehensive retrospective of their work), the V&A museum in London, and the Amos Rex museum in Helsinki.

“Most of the time, we’re driven to make something because of an aspect of nature, but only when we use technology can we mimic things that feel alive, vivid and changing,“ said Gordijn, “Technology is a direct spin-off of nature and, as humans, it’s in our nature to use technology. We try to create pieces that help you forget about your phone for a moment and feel like you’re in harmony with the environment.“ For the Dutch duo, technology is a means to bring a vision to life rather than an end-goal, which is why you won’t find them trying to chase down the newest technologies for the sake of it.

Fragile Future, one of Studio Drift’s most well-known works, is a modular light sculpture made up of hand-picked dandelion seeds that are individually attached to LED lights and connected to a three-dimensional lattice of bronze electrical circuits. “The first time I glued a dandelion to an LED light, I saw the fineness of electronics and how similar it was to the tiny, delicate phenomena in nature,“ said Gordijn, “Bridging those two worlds was truly a visual discovery.“ What started as Gordijn’s graduation project in 2005 has since developed into many eye-catching versions, which have been shown at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, the 2014 São Paulo Biennale and, more recently, the 2019 Venice Art Biennale.

With Gordijn’s fascination for natural phenomena and Nauta’s interest in science-fiction, Studio Drift brings the duo’s affinities together in a way that appears seamless and holistic. “When we first met each other more than 10 years ago, we started having conversations about our personal interests and learned that these two worlds are not as far apart as we initially thought,“ said Nauta, “Most of the time, we want to achieve the same thing but we’re coming from two different directions.“

When it comes to getting on the same page for a project, Gordijn admits that it can be a difficult process that involves a lot of back and forth between the two. But once they reach a mutual understanding and agreement, there’s a “feeling of balance“. The pair, who met while studying at Design Academy Eindhoven, blend elements from the spheres of art, design, nature and technology with the aim of injecting a moment of deep and heightened awareness in their viewers.

“It’s all about creating a feeling or belonging or connection to nature and ourselves,“ explained Nauta. “If we can achieve that, hopefully it will inspire others to start developing technology that has more relevance to the natural world.“ When asked about how Studio Drift would position themselves among the different fields they work in, they both responded adamantly that they wouldn’t. “I think categories are a way for people to understand things, but we don’t see our work in any one category,“ added Gordijn.

Since much of Studio Drift’s work strives to illustrate the complex dynamics between seemingly opposing realms, it’s no surprise that many of their ideas take a lot of time to research and often involve collaborations with experts across disciplines, like scientists, engineers and programmers.

It took the duo nearly 10 years before Franchise Freedom came to fruition. Debuted in 2017 at Art Basel in Miami, the airborne sculpture saw 300 illuminated Intel drones mimic the magical murmurations of starlings against a darkening sky. By mirroring the interactions of birds moving in a flock, Franchise Freedom – created in collaboration with BMW – investigates the tension that exists when individuals strive to obtain total freedom and, yet, still need to rely on groups and communities to thrive in society.

“It was a tough process because we didn’t have much funding and, of course, weren’t just handed the technology on a platter to play with,“ recalled Nauta, “We started developing the technology alongside the Delft University of Technology but there was so much that was beyond our control, like larger companies developing drone technology, so it was very hard to continue development and not lose momentum.“ But the duo persevered and it seems to have paid off. The piece wowed its audiences in Miami and went on to be showcased in Amsterdam and at Burning Man festival in Nevada.

Despite the challenges that emerge during the process of creating each artwork, Gordijn and Nauta are still eager to follow their curiosity, and to imagine a future where nature and technology merge together in meaningful ways. As for what’s coming next, Gordijn is excited to research more about how public architecture impacts the way we live and work. “For us, being able to create our ideas is the most important thing – and it’s the thing that drives us,“ she said.

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