Delicate life-like dandelions spread their seeds with a thousand points of light atop three-dimensional bronze circuits entirely disconnected from a visible power source. Electrified bird drones swarm the sky with a realistic flight of poetic unison and expression. A massive block of concrete levitates and slowly spins on its axis above the heads of an awe-struck crowd. These are some of the mind-bending creations of Amsterdam-based Studio Drift.
The laws of nature are just a suggestion for the brilliant minds behind Studio Drift. Founders Ralph Nauta and Lonneke Gordijn’s utopian creations can be found in some of the most prestigious museums and exhibit spaces around the globe, such as The Israel Museum, Jerusalem; Museum of Art and Design, New York; Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam; and the Victoria & Albert Museum, London. Inspired by the influences of nature and human interaction, their work is a combination of painstakingly hand-crafted traditional materials driven by intensely complicated custom electronics. Nature and technology are uniquely sculpted together to form compelling, abstract and emotional experiences that are both soothing and awe-inspiring.
“We always include a natural element in our art,” explains Nauta. “That’s what we can relate to on an emotional level. You would never get tired of looking at the ocean, or into a fire. It’s those natural connections that are very important for us. And next to that, we love, love, love to work with technology that we hardly understand ourselves. We have this mega focus to create something that will inspire generations to come and open people’s minds for this magical experience. That is the moment when you wake up and go, whoa, how is this possible?”
Studio Drift was selected by Microsoft, in collaboration with Artsy magazine, to create the first mixed reality art piece for the Microsoft HoloLens. The experience begins with solid concrete forms that come alive in a growing digital storm with the help of the HoloLens and its augmented reality technology. The real and the virtual worlds intersect for viewers, co-existing and unbound by screens.
Nauta is ready for the next evolution of this art form. “It’s not the full potential of the tech yet,” he says. “For us it is important to work with these companies and to show the potential of what you can do with it artistically. We are motivated to create something that engages you and brings you into new thought processes and still allows you to work on a better society instead of more noise.”
When holographic display creator Light Field Lab was introduced to Nauta and Studio Drift, it seemed like a natural fit. “It was such a turning point in my career,” shares Nauta. “Finally, these amazing tech developers found value in aligning with us as artists. Who would not be engaged and enthusiastic about working with holo technology or creating something that could float in thin air? It’s just a dream come true, to have such a collaboration.”
“Good sci-fi is the predecessor of new technology,” adds Nauta, who calls himself a sci-fi geek. “Things like 3D holograms, you think that will never ever happen and then you see it is suddenly in front of you. We are in the future. This is what we dreamt about when we were kids, and now it is here. The idea of allowing anyone to experience the work without some kind of high tech gadget that is only for the lucky few, that’s what we are potentially going to do.”
Nauta and his partner Gordijn, enthusiastic about a new tech advancement that fits in a story they want to express through their art, began to imagine a free-flying light sculpture that used the natural flight pattern algorithms of starlings. But their concept was ahead of the drone industry, so their Franchise Freedom project took 10 years of university research and the investment of Intel to make their vision a reality. The result was an intensely beautiful and emotional experience for audiences on the ground at Art Basel Miami Beach, where it premiered, and later in New York, Amsterdam and Burning Man.
“When we were flying the drones for the first time, after all of this work, what we were seeing on the screen was happening in real life,” Nauta says. But the initial performance was disappointing to Nauta and Gordijn, due to cornering speed and light intensity issues. “You didn’t get that g-force feeling when these bird swarms are cornering and making these mesmerizing patterns,” explains Nauta. “We convinced the engineers to stay two more nights, all night long, until we got to the right point.” The extra work was worth it, says Nauta. “In the end, the Intel engineers said we were right. Now we were all feeling what we were seeing.”
As Studio Drift continues to defy the ultimate design of nature with the technology of tomorrow, part of their mission is to inspire emotion and child-like wonder. “For a lot of people in the industry of tech development, there is a certain pride in not feeling,” says Nauta. “You focus on what you can control instead of what you can feel, and there is a major danger in this because these companies are now determining the future. Having that conversation [about the importance of generating emotion and awe] is why we make the work, and we hope to inspire them to be part of that.”
For more information on Studio Drift, visit their website.