DDW19 Ambassador: Studio Drift

Every year, Dutch Design Week (DDW) appoints a number of ambassadors who are of great importance to the international design field. This year they are: Studio Drift, Jalila Essaïdi, Alice Rawsthorn and Stefano Boeri Architetti. Each in their own way, they share insights, give answers and reflect on the design world. But who are they and what do they stand for? Let's (digitally) meet Lonneke and Ralph from Studio Drift!
First, a short introduction!

From its establishment by Lonneke Gordijn and Ralph Nauta in 2007, Studio Drift has amazed us all with its mesmerizing projects. Often site-specific, their work fades the lines between design, science and art. With a poetic aesthetic that touches people’s hearts. However, a deep interest in modern technology is concealed under this enchanting layer of beauty. During DDW, Studio Drift will show a number of site-specific works at Domus Dela.

To begin with, your work is known all around the world. The piece "Franchise Freedom" was recently presented at the NASA site and you currently have a solo exhibition at the Mint Museum, Charlotte (North Carolina). Can you explain this global interest?

In today’s world people are driven by a need to feel and experience something. Digitalization was upon us and quickly it became easy to lose touch with the reality of sensations that nature provides. Through our artworks, we want to re-connect people with nature, showing them the purity and at the same time complexity of the world around them. Art can cover many different aspects; we want our art to be experienced. Performance is an important parameter for us as it creates a strong bond, leaving a lasting impression. And perhaps this is why DRIFT’s work has gained interest around the world, people want to experience and feel enlightened rather than just witness something.

As was the case in Franchise Freedom, your work is often location specific. How does the location influence the work?

Evolution is always environment related. So are we. Our environment is something we have created; we don’t live in a natural environment that is out of our control anymore. Architectural spaces often feel dead and lack energy. We always go to the space to see how it feels, what it needs and then come up with a work that enhances that space in a way that feels natural again. Most of the time ‘movement’ and ‘light’ are elements that help people reconnect with the space. This process is always site specific. Existing works can be reprogrammed in a totally different way for a new space to create a different connection. We always develop works that can be adapted or are modular and therefore unique in different spaces.

It is an interesting idea, presenting work in a changing spatial context. As your work is presented worldwide, the social context also changes. How can you address social or cultural problems through your projects?

We feel a great need to understand our fundamental behaviour, our responses, needs and habits and they can all be found in the same instinctive behaviour that we see in nature, animals, rivers and plants. We use technology to create situations in which the audience can experience feeling part of nature. Creating this awareness and reconnecting ourselves with the earth is an important need and may be at the root of solving both cultural and social problems.

With Materialism, we want to show and understand our consumption and use of natural resources; a process of de-production that leaves us with an unfamiliar feeling about familiar objects that we use exclusively because of their function. All of the objects are deconstructed, and all of their components reduced to simple blocks. Materialism – The bag project really arouses awareness through a sculpture comprising blocks, each made from just one supermarket shopping bag, about the quantity of materials of everyday objects that are extracted from the earth and the geopolitics behind all this in which we all partake. Visual cues for our actual use of natural resources provide a more explicit depiction and have greater impact for people.

Looking to the future, how do you envisage design in the light of current and future technological and social developments?

We believe that as artists we have a very important role in this technological revolution. We see that scientists working for large tech corporations are completely focused on data and revenue. They do not consider how their technical innovations could impact social lives and human behaviour. As artists we work with emotions and the impact of these technologies on our lives. Artists and designers can play a crucial role in steering these innovations through not only commenting on them but also creating alternatives or additions to the new technologies. They consider different values from the engineers and both values should be combined to achieve meaningful future perspectives.

Can the use of technology improve society?

Absolutely, but we have to question ‘what’ improvement is. Are we just replacing one technology with another or is mankind being given a different state of existence through a much more intrinsic change in our behaviour? Technology can help, but it is not the core of the improvement we are looking for. We need to develop a communal vision first, a shared goal of where we want to go. Visions for our future do not just govern its appearance, they are much more about how people think, eat, feel and live together. So the question that needs to be answered is: who are we and who do we want to be? It is paramount that artists and designers help create these visions and that it is not just left to scientists and engineers.

As Cedric Price said: “Technology was the answer, but what was the question”.

How does this affect your own work?

In most cases the right question has not been asked. Who are we and where do we want to go? We have to create a shared vision first and then develop the technology to get us there. Not the other way around. In our practice we use technology to create situations that feel completely natural and provide as much calm and connection as you find in a natural environment. As it is impossible for 8 billion people to return to living in the forest, we have to find ways and technological solutions for getting us closer to mankind’s natural state in order to understand where we have to go.

The core elements of our works are nature, humanity and technology, we focus on using the latter in order to re-connect people with nature. We are not trying to hide technology but to actually show how it fits organically within the work and the world. Technology is a tool, but it is not its sole characteristic, it has its own beauty and complexity too. With Fragile Future we show the symbiosis of a light structure and dandelion seed heads, how two seemingly opposite elements can come together in an organic way.

Your work is often a poetic approach to nature through technology. How does your work fit within the design world?

We both studied at the Design Academy. However, we are not interested in creating functional works. We want to create situations in which people can experience feeling connected with themselves, with each other and with their environment. Establishing these connections is crucial for reaching good decisions, or for deciding what direction the world should take. We need to connect first and then develop ways to achieve that vision. Technology can help with the implementation. We see ourselves as artists, exploring ways to establish these connections through research, experiment and developing technology that allows us to feel. We ask fundamental questions and explore how answers can be felt as a recognition and a need, rather than understood in words.

Lonneke Gordijn, Ralph Nauta (Studio Drift)
Gijs Kast
Back to Eindhoven. You are DDW19 ambassadors. What do you think about this position?

This is truly an honour for us and also an achievement. As we met in Eindhoven 20 years ago, being back here as ambassadors and not as students is special and thrilling. It confirms that we have taken the next step in our careers. We want to take advantage of this position you have given us through sharing our personal interpretations of the theme ‘If not now, then when’ with an exclusive project realized specifically for DDW and through a workshop encouraging and guiding the next generations! We specifically want to share our knowledge on how to be bold in business and how to create and follow your own path.

From student to ambassador, you really have experienced the whole of DDW! DDW attracts a wide audience. How do you think DDW contributes to the global discussions within the design world

The DDW theme in itself could not be more relevant today. Artists and designers, entrepreneurs and engineers are the people that come up with new ideas for the future. DDW is the ultimate positive platform for solutions that might be commonplace in a few years. It also highlights the spirit of our times and what is living in people’s minds.

What do you perceive to be the importance of events such as DDW?

DDW raises the importance of creativity, design, art, technology, science and the interchange between disciplines to a higher level of importance and awareness for a larger audience. Both professionals and interested visitors are inspired by the greatness of the mind and what dreaming out loud can do for our future. This is of the utmost importance.

While we are on the subject of DDW, do you have any tips? Are you looking forward to certain presentations or events?

Looking forward to everything with an interesting vision for the future, or new solutions for changing the mindset and attitude towards our world and environment. Our focus is on human behaviour, rather than on new technologies. These two go hand in hand and should not be separated.

Finally, the theme for DDW19 is "If not now, then when?". How would you answer this question?

Then it would be too late. This straightforward question is both a reminder and an ultimatum. We have to act now.

Biography

Studio Drift was established in 2007 by Lonneke Gordijn and Ralph Nauta. In their installations and interactive sculptures the relationship between technology, nature & human is key. Lonneke’s fascination for nature and Ralph’s for science-fiction and technology intersect in an intriguing way. Studio Drift translated state-of-the-art technology, algorithms and data into large-scale, site-specific and kinetic works. Over the years they have gained an international reputation and their work is exhibited in museums worldwide. studiodrift.com