Immersed in Light: Studio Drift at the Mint

Lonneke Gordijn and Ralph Nauta with Fragile Future art piece

Lonneke Gordijn and Ralph Nauta with Fragile Future, from an article by Freunde von Freunden

“People find the time to look at art within a gallery setting, but the world is one big exhibition if you only care to look.” –Studio Drift, 2017.

The Mint Museum is organizing the first solo museum exhibition outside Europe by Studio Drift, a design group based in the Netherlands that creates breathtaking sculptures that explore the relationship between humanity, nature and technology. Dutch artists Ralph Nauta (b.1978) and Lonneke Gordijn (b.1980) established their studio in 2007, after graduating from the prestigious Design Academy Eindhoven. Their work emanates from their distinct, yet complementary and intertwined interests. Whereas Nauta has long been fascinated by science fiction and futuristic thinking, Gordijn has an abiding interest in nature, which she views as more hi-tech than anything humans could create. Accordingly, in bringing their ideas to life, they approach technology from “an intuitive and emotional perspective,” as Gordijn puts it, often using it to emulate nature and ultimately to create an emotional experience for the viewer. Frequently new technology must be developed to realize their ideas, requiring ongoing collaborations with scientists, university research facilities, computer programmers, and engineers. Over the years Studio Drift has grown to 20 employees, who manage a busy schedule of commissions, gallery shows, and other projects around the world.

In 2018 the studio had their first solo exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. They have won numerous international design awards and have participated in group shows such as Design Society at the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) in 2016 and What is Luxury?, a collaboration between the V&A and the Crafts Council in 2015. Studio Drift’s work has been featured at several major design fairs including Design Miami/Basel, Art Paris Art Fair, Dubai Design Week, artmonte-carlo, FOG Design + Art, and ZONA MACO. Their design works and site-specific installations are included in the permanent collections of the Rijksmuseum, Indianapolis Museum of Art, SF MoMA, and others.

This exhibition will feature five works by Studio Drift dating from the last decade to today, most of which have been customized for the Mint, and one installation, Seeds (working title only), premiering here. This blog post is the first in a series that will explore each of the works in the exhibition and offer a behind-the-scenes view of the exhibition’s development.

Studio Drift. Fragile Future 3, 2015, installation at Cidade Materrazo, Brazil

The story of Studio Drift starts with its lighting installation Fragile Future, a network of bronze electrical circuits and dandelion puffs made of LED lights to which dandelion seeds have been individually hand-glued. It is a profound and poetic reflection on the fact that light is the basis and sustenance of all life as well as a testament to the transience of our life and times. Delicate dandelion puffs are the ultimate symbol of ephemerality, yet here they are frozen in time, unable to fulfill their original purpose. Instead, they filter the LED lights and appear to either give power to them or derive power from them.

Studio Drift. Fragile Future Chandelier (Detail). Courtesy of Carpenters Workshop Gallery

Fragile Future began as Gordijn’s graduation project at the Design Academy Eindhoven after she noticed the similarity between LED lights and the centers of dandelions and realized that the seeds could be used to filter light. As she told Modern magazine in its spring 2017 issue, “It worked out perfectly and the hard light was spread so organically and softly. This was the first time that I realized that nature and technology did not have to be enemies, but could also be connected with each other and even share a similar size and aesthetic.”

After graduating, Gordijn and Nauta, who had been friends since their first days at Eindhoven, founded Studio Drift and developed Fragile Future further. Early versions were individual light fixtures, but the concept soon evolved into modules—just as dandelions are weeds, notorious for spreading everywhere, Fragile Future can expand in any direction. Essentially a three-dimensional circuit board without the board, it can be mounted on walls, hung from a ceiling, or spread across the floor. Lonneke and Ralph describe the development of the work in this video:

Studio Drift showed Fragile Future in 2007 at the Salone del Mobile in Milan, the major international design fair, and immediately received accolades.  This success enabled them to show the work at Design Miami the following year, leading to representation by the Paris-based Carpenters Workshop Gallery. A show of Fragile Future by that gallery at the PAD design fair in Paris in 2009 sold out the edition of eight plus four artist’s proofs. Since then, Studio Drift have continued making new iterations of Fragile Future while also exploring ever more ambitious ideas in other sculptures, which will be described in upcoming blog posts. Their exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum included the largest installation of Fragile Future to date, shown below; the version shown at The Mint Museum will be of similar size.

Studio Drift. Fragile Future 3, 2018, installation at Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. Photo: Gert Jan van Rooij