Exploring the fluctuating relationships between nature, technology and man, DRIFT creates delicate kinetic sculptures, immersive installations and performance art pieces uniting audiences with experiences that inspire a reconnection to our planet.
Founded by Dutch artists Lonneke Gordijn and Ralph Nauta in Amsterdam in 2007 after graduating from Design Academy Eindhoven, DRIFT’s works of art illuminate parallels between man-made and natural structures through deconstructive, interactive, and innovative processes. The artists raise fundamental questions about what life is and explore a positive scenario for the future.
Comprising a multi-disciplinary team of 64, DRIFT has produced artistic collaborations with brands including NASA, Microsoft, BMW, and Louis Vuitton. Their works have also been featured as part of the Venice Biennale, Art Basel Miami Beach, The Armory Show, Dutch Design Week, Burning Man, and Summit LA19, and in artistic performance and contemporary art museums worldwide.
Inspired by a highly evolved natural mechanism called nyctinasty, which regulates that certain types of flowers close at night for self-defense and to conserve their resources, DRIFT created ‘Shylight,’ a sculpture enclosed in silk petals that unfolds and retreats in a fascinating choreography, mirroring that of real flowers.
Whenever the tulip-shaped lamp is switched on, it falls out of its ‘cocoon,’ opens its petals and floats downward. When switched off, it closes again. DRIFT devised highly mechanical robotic solutions in order to create a poetic and ‘living’ sculpture in which every lamp is programmable and can be combined with additional Shylights to perform a dance of shifting, timing illumination.
‘Shylight’ was originally created as a permanent feature in the renovated Philips Wing of Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, and later installed on the top floor of Amsterdam’s derelict Veemgebouw factory building in celebration of Dutch Design Week 2015.
"Most man-made objects have a static form, while everything natural in this world including people, are subject to constant metamorphosis and adaptation to their surroundings. Shylight is the result of the question, how can an inanimate object mimic those changes that express character and emotions?"
‘Meadow’ is an upside-down landscape, a masterwork of kinetic lighting comprising eighteen mechanical blossoms that open and close in poetic choreography in response to visitors passing below. Inspired by the biological behavior of nyctinasty—the ability of certain plants to bloom in the daytime and close their petals at night—visitors operate as sunlight proxies, activating motion sensors that cause the petals to react and change color in their presence.
The fabric flowers are printed in gradient shades that harmonize with colored LED lights to evoke the changing tones of a skyscape as dawn transitions to dusk, reminding the viewer of the impermanence of constantly changing seasons and sensational character of natural growth processes.
Originally developed as a site-specific installation commissioned by the Chodov Centre in Prague, the work has since been displayed during Dutch Design Week 2018 alongside 40 leading and promising designers, and as a permanent installation inside the main doors of the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields, where it was designed specifically for the Efroymson Family Entrance Pavilion.
The spatial, kinetic installation ‘In 20 Steps’ is a tribute to evolution and the ultimate human desire to be able to fly, despite the force of gravity, and the poetry of persistence in the face of adversity.
The work is constructed of 20 delicate glass wings that represent the different steps of flying in an abstract way. Each element is powered by a motor and contains bronze joints; at the same time, the piece captures flight in a single moment. The glass emphasizes the fragility of the movement and of nature itself. Simultaneously, the way the moving glass breaks the natural light in the space and reflects it in moving rays mimics a celestial dance. The piece itself does not give light; it is only environmental light that is visible through the reflections in the moving glass.
‘Drifter’ is a monolithic block of concrete that floats and moves slowly along a controlled, three-dimensional path, creating a performance in its space. The structural support used to keep the volume off the ground and the mechanisms used to create its motion are all hidden from view, creating a sense of disbelief and displacement, and creating tension between humanity versus nature and chaos versus order.
This concrete cuboid represents a basic building unit, the primary element by which human-built environment is constructed. On its own, the concrete block is nothing, lost in space and time without reference to anything; it is always searching to be part of something bigger. ‘Drifter’ wants to make people feel that without context they are lost. Without context, the object feels alien, divorced from its source. Moreover, ‘Drifter’ shows how unknown the world and its mechanisms still are to mankind and emphasizes the urge to expand our horizon and evolve in time.
“We wanted to make something that everyone said was impossible. When we come up with something, it might take 10, 20 years to complete. It doesn't matter."
‘Flylight’ is an interactive light installation composed of a variable amount of laboratory glass tubes and halogen lights adapted accordingly to each space. The glass tubes light up and respond to the viewer, inspired by the behavior of a flock of birds and the fascinating patterns they seem to make randomly in the air.
While birds are the ultimate symbol of freedom, in a flock, they move as one single entity, creating mesmerizing patterns. This flock behavior is an example of ‘self-organization,’ meaning that no single bird leads the flight. Amazingly enough, each individual senses the speed and the direction of the group. This natural phenomenon formed a source of inspiration for ‘Flylight,’ which symbolizes the conflict between humans, the safety of a group and the freedom of the individual.
To commemorate DRIFT’s 10-year anniversary, the designers adapted their ‘Flylight’ technology, which uses an algorithm to make thousands of multicolored LEDs mimic flocks of birds, for the large-scale LED artwork ‘Tree of Ténéré.’ The interactive light sculpture, controlled by visitors’ movements, heartbeats and brain activity, illuminated the center of Nevada’s Black Rock Desert as part of Burning Man 2017.
An ancient story tells us that the isolated Tree of Ténéré, only found in the Sahara Desert, had a ceremonial function to bring people together for ritual and rest. Conceived and created by Zachary Smith, the massive, lifelike, climbable canvas measured over 3 stories tall and used DRIFT’s innovative technology to create a space for people to come together to pursue emotional resonance.
"Their work explores the relationship between nature, technology and mankind through a process involving collaborations with scientists, university departments, research facilities, programmers and engineers. DRIFT draws their inspiration from nature as a starting point, both in a formal and a philosophical way, while the creative process is fueled by innovative techniques."
A collaborative project between DRIFT and three other Dutch studios from various creative disciplines, ‘The Particle Plan’ is a permanent interactive light installation that illuminates Lucerne’s Kapellbrücke (Chapel Bridge), one of the most prominent tourist attractions in Switzerland.
For many years, the bridge disappeared from view at night, blocking the stunning view of the city skyline. With ‘The Particle Plan,’ the oldest surviving truss bridge in the world became a public stage – each stroll over the Kapellbrücke initiates a unique light pattern across its exterior, triggering selected individual ‘particles’ of the bridge to become illuminated with hues that draw on the natural beauty of the wood and mosses that make up its framework.
‘The Particle Plan’ invites pedestrians to transform the Kapellbrücke in real time, with their own activity through the bridge lighting their path, while also projecting a brilliant roofscape that is visible to those viewing it from the riverbanks.
The multidisciplinary light sculpture, ‘Fragile Future,’ sits at the intersection of nature and technology, combining both in a tender balance. Three-dimensional bronze electrical circuits are connected to light-emitting dandelions, bolted together to form a power circuit overgrowing walls, floors and ceilings, forming sculptures and chandeliers.
This labor-intensive process, a clear statement against mass production and throwaway culture, is a critical yet utopian vision on the future of our planet, wherein two seemingly opposite evolutions have made a pact to survive.
"DRIFT proposes a vision of the future in their signature aesthetics; a distinct mix between hi-tech and poetic imagery. This series is about conveying emotion while simultaneously referring to the fact that light lies at the basis of all life. The project can be seen as a critical yet utopian vision on the future of our planet, where two seemingly opposite evolutions have made a pact to survive."
Exploring the relationship between man, nature, and technology, ‘Franchise Freedom’ is a performative artwork in which an autonomously flying swarm of hundreds of drones questions the human concept of freedom and social construct.
Based on a biological algorithm from over 10 years of research into starlings’ flight behavior, the artwork stretches boundaries between nature and technology and generates an impactful social connection, inviting the observer to view a poetic side of technical innovation and connect back with nature.
‘Semblance’ is both a performance piece and outdoor sculpture that joins mechanical and natural forces together, a combination essential in our tech-driven evolution. DRIFT further explores the highly evolved natural mechanism called ‘nyctinasty’ in this weather-resistant light sculpture, which unfolds and retreats in a fascinating choreography.
Composed of 14 large mechanical flowers that slowly open and close in programmed movements evocative of certain plants, ‘Semblance’ has become a work that feels alive. Like many of DRIFT’s projects, it is poetic and enchanting, descending over 25 meters to blossom in all its glorious beauty, and subsequently closing and retreating.
Deconstructing manmade items to highlight the amount of natural resources and effort involved in the extraction, labor and manufacturing of their production – a matter DRIFT believes is typically taken for granted – the ongoing ‘Materialism’ series confronts us on a very elementary level, calling for contemplation on how we deal with the raw materials at our disposal.
Everyday products such as a vacuum cleaner, Volkswagen Beetle, pencil, or bicycle have been reduced to the exact quantity of the specific raw materials that comprise them, shown in the form of 2:1 dimensional rectangular blocks. These blocks of varied, pure color make visual rhymes with the earliest works of abstract art, such as the paintings of Kazimir Malevich, Hilma af Klint, and Piet Mondrian.
"Visual cues are sometimes most effective to elicit any kind of thought. It is a process for people to understand (ourselves included) their place in nature, then realizing how many natural resources are used for it to finally see the impact of their lives and decisions on their natural surroundings. We want to play a role in that visualization as we have been engaged with this process during our studies and is of our personal interests."
In 1969, Apollo 11 launched from Kennedy Space Center with a mission to land on the moon. In celebration of the 50th anniversary of this monumental achievement, DRIFT was invited by the Aldrin Family Foundation to commemorate this historical moment at the Kennedy Space Center’s Rocket Garden with a special performance of ‘Franchise Freedom.’
This performative artwork saw an autonomously-flying swarm of drones enact a hypnotic display of technological choreography, exposing the tension between individual freedom and safety in numbers, in front of a full moon together with a musical performance by Duran Duran.
“The Apollo 11 moon landing exemplifies how technology can have a positive effect on humanity. Let’s take this as an example of what amazing possibilities we have if we put our minds together. It is our responsibility to use technology to build a sustainable future.”
For the Nederlandse Reisopera’s production of the oldest opera still in performance, Monteverdi’s ‘L’Orfeo’ (1607), director Monique Wagemakers and choreographer Nanine Linning partnered with DRIFT to develop an overwhelming installation titled ‘Ego’ – a moving hand-woven sculpture made of nylon thread that filled almost the entire stage image.
Interacting with the company’s singers and dancers, ‘Ego’ showed the inner world of Orpheus, who is stuck in his own rigid thought patterns about love and life. Only when he loses his wife, Euridice, and his world completely collapses does he rise above his own abilities.
‘Ego’ was manipulated by engines, algorithms and specially developed software. During the performances, ‘Ego’ was also conducted manually to respond to the changeability and subtleties of the live orchestra. The movements of and the projections on the sculpture represented Orpheus’ emotions, his fears and his power, making ‘Ego’ not merely part of the stage decor but rather a soloist on its own.
“With her installations, Lonneke operates at the edge between life and death, between day and night, between being frozen in rigidity and getting moving – exactly what Orpheus is about.”
DRIFT’s immersive installation, Shylight, was featured for the first time on the West Coast as part of Summit’s annual flagship event, which brings together an international group of 2500 entrepreneurs, academics, athletes, artists, astronauts, authors, chefs, engineers, explorers, philanthropists, spiritual leaders, and scientists for a series of talks, immersive art installations, culinary experiences, and performances.
Held in downtown Los Angeles, DRIFT’s monumental work awed Summit LA19 guests with elements of humankind, nature, and technology.
“I’ve become really interested in how artists use their practice as a way to understand and imagine the future. From reinterpretations of technology and motion like DRIFT's blooming kinetic flower Shylight, all evoke a simultaneous sense of beauty and darkness, and this year I was particularly drawn to that blurry line in between.”
Originally seen in DRIFT’s premiere solo museum exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam in 2018, ‘In 20 Steps’ inspired fashion designer Iris van Herpen’s FW18 collection of heat-bonded and laser-cut corset dresses with dreamy organza details, titled ‘Syntopia.’
Constructed of delicate glass wings that represent the ultimate human desire for flight, the site-specific installation also accompanied the collection at van Herpen’s runway show during Paris Fashion Week, in which the vivacious glass bird flowed in symbiosis with the models as they moved across the runway.
With ‘Syntopia,’ van Herpen explored the new worlds that arise within synthetic biology and the intertwining relationships between the organic and the inorganic, partnering with DRIFT to create an unforgettable alliance of art and fashion.
"DRIFT inspired me to look more closely at the draping of a garment through chronophotography. The moving wings of delicate glass represent the constructive steps of continuous improvement. The vivacious glass bird flows in symbiosis with the models while they move over the runway, their delicate interaction emphasizes the fragility of new worlds living and soaring together."
Created as a tribute to DRIFT’s fascination with nature’s grandeur and complexity, ‘Franchise Freedom’ lit up the night sky above Art Basel Miami Beach in partnership with Faena, Future\Pace and BMW.
DRIFT’s technology is based on ongoing university research on flocking behavior, as the principles of self-organization become more and more relevant in our changing world. Never before had a natural phenomenon of this magnitude been recreated by autonomously flying drones, which invited viewers to see a poetic side of technical innovation and connect back with nature.
The full collaboration was documented in four films.
"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."
Artsy, an online platform for exploring art from around the world, teamed up with DRIFT to create the first mixed reality art experience in collaboration with Microsoft HoloLens that immersed viewers in an experience where the physical and digital came together as a new parallel world. The result was ‘Concrete Storm,’ a public artwork created in mixed reality.
The installation was unveiled at the 2017 Armory Show in New York, where a trio of concrete pillars in the gallery seemed solid and static to the naked eye – until visitors put on the HoloLens headset. The pillars would then nearly quadruple in height and animate, like tree trunks swaying back and forth in the wind. The goal was not to transport visitors to a totally disparate virtual world, but rather to digitally augment their existing world and allow them to see it in a provocative new light.
“Feeling present in your environment is a key aspect of mixed reality, enabling you to move naturally, interact, and explore in three dimensions. These aspects make the entire world a canvas for artists.”
Louis Vuitton commissioned DRIFT to create public site-specific installations of its multidisciplinary light sculpture, ‘Fragile Future,’ in two of the brand’s flagship stores: Pacific Place in Hong Kong and Matsuya Ginza in Tokyo.
Featuring chandelier-inspired lights engulfed by dandelion heads, which were picked by hand and connected seed-by-seed, these illuminated wonders integrate nature and technology in an awe-inspiring way. The ‘Fragile Future’ series is about conveying emotion while simultaneously referring to the fact that light lies at the basis of all life. Every unique sculpture is designed to organically adapt to its specific context, in this case a luxury retail environment.
Imagine a future where humanity, nature and technology seamlessly intertwine.
Fragile Future is a solo exhibition by multidisciplinary artists DRIFT on view at The Shed / NY. The exhibition transforms The Shed with sound, movement, and film. Their experiential installations play on our senses and help us imagine positive, alternative solutions to the problems our planet faces. DRIFT’s monumental exhibition and series of special performances inspire a reconnection to our planet and its natural processes, as well as empathy towards nonliving objects.
On select dates, ‘Drifters’ becomes a surreal immersive performance at The Shed’s four-story high, 17,000-square-foot McCourt space. In this unique performance, a congregation of Drifters danced in the air in an ethereal atmosphere, in counterpoint to a soundtrack by ANOHNI.
As part of Dutch Design Week 2019, DRIFT unveiled a new installation in its ‘Materialism’ series, an exercise in dismantling consumer culture.
3,000 blue blocks, each representing the exact quantity of plastic used to make a shopping bag for Albert Heijn, the iconic Dutch supermarket, were placed on the ground, a few centimeters apart. Together, the assembled cuboids created a three-dimensional index of consumption while a curved screen showed 16 simultaneous films depicting every customer leaving an Albert Heijn store in Eindhoven with a plastic shopping bag over the course of one day.
The plastic blocks that formed the Van Abbemuseum installation were sold in the museum’s gift shop, with profits donated to Dave Hakkens’s ‘Precious Plastic’ project.
“DRIFT: About Nature, Technology and Humankind,” at San Francisco’s Carpenters Workshop Gallery. Presented in the former Saint Joseph’s Church, the show will explore how nature and technology impact modern life.
Highlights of the exhibition include DRIFT’s Flylight (2009), a site-specific installation that uses software to simulate the behavior of a flock of birds and Fragile Future III (2007), which depicts a floating field of light-emitting dandelion sculptures using real dandelion seeds. Both installations prompt reflection on society and the sustainability of human progress.
As part of the 2019 Venice Biennale’s DYSFUNCTIONAL, an immersive exhibit presented by Carpenters Workshop Gallery in partnership with the Lombard Odier Group, DRIFT’s ‘Fragile Future III’ aimed to create a dialogue between nature and technology to create a new synergy.
Made from intricate three-dimensional bronze circuits that conduct electricity, the dandelion heads were attached to LED lights and placed with extreme precision across the frame of the bronzed walls. The dandelions then naturally softened the light coming through the LED installments, creating a delicate stream of gentle, calming light – a distinct mix between hi-tech and poetic imagery.
"For decades, neuropsychologists have examined the brain, theorizing that people are either left-brained or right-brained. The left side controls logic and analytical thinking, while the right side operates creativity and imagination. Drawing upon this parallel, we see DRIFT as a scientific marvel—an art and design studio that operates from both simultaneously."
The newly-opened Amos Rex contemporary art museum in Helsinki, Finland recently launched DRIFT’s second solo exhibition, entitled ‘Elemental,’ featuring groundbreaking artworks, installations, and multimedia pieces.
Comprising film, sculpture and installations, the exhibition explored the basic premise from which all living beings operate: single entities attaching themselves to larger contexts. The centerpiece of the exhibition was the premiere of a new, larger Drifter – a utopian vision of a concrete monolith floating silently towards an unknown destination – measuring 5 x 2.5 x 2.5 meters. Other works on display included a large ‘Fragile Future 3’ installation, new ‘Materialism’ works inspired by everyday objects of Finnish culture such as a Nokia phone and a pair of Fiskars scissors, and the film, ‘Drifters.’
DRIFT’s first major exhibition, ‘Coded Nature,’ presented a wide range of transdisciplinary works from the Dutch studio that engaged with topics from sustainability to issues raised by the growing use of augmented reality.
The retrospective, held at Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum and curated by Ingeborg de Roode and Pao-Lien Dije, featured an overview of 10 years of DRIFT. In addition to early designs, the exhibition featured new, previously unseen work. The total presentation comprised 16 galleries with room-filling and site-specific installations, together with a selection of films, sculptures, prototypes and models, including ‘Flylight,’ ‘Semblance,’ ‘In 20 Steps,’ ‘Fragile Future Chandelier 3.5,’ ‘Drifter,’ ‘Materialism,’ ‘Tree of Ténéré,’ and ‘Franchise Freedom.’
"The work of DRIFT has evolved on a winding yet deliberate path, delightfully unrestrained by the traditions of either art or design. The aesthetic language the duo, Lonneke Gordijn and Ralph Nauta, have developed on this journey blends rawness with refinement, revealing the inner workings of phenomena while also inspiring wonderment about the unknowable, achieving a satisfying and modern mysticism. This language, realized in the materials, form, and motion of the objects and installations they create, often seems to aim at the same target as poetry: achieving emotional resonance."
Pace Gallery presented ‘Drifter’ at the 2017 Armory Show, which took place at Piers 92 and 94 on New York’s West Side. The site-specific artwork comprised a cuboid measuring 4 x 2 x 2 meters, which appeared to be suspended in midair within a three-sided white enclosure, seemingly defying gravity as it tilted and rotated, sometimes simultaneously, at different speeds.
It was unclear whether the movement was programmed to respond to human presence, or if it was random – an intentionally enigmatic feature of the work, which wrapped up contrasting feelings around weight and weightlessness for a confusing, enchanting viewing experience.
‘Drifter’ was part of The Armory Show’s special programming series ‘Platform,’ which celebrated large scale artworks that needle humanity’s relationship with technology, alongside works by Yayoi Kusama and Ai Weiwei.
DRIFT created an installation of ‘In 20 Steps,’ featuring 40 delicate glass bars that were arranged in pairs and moved like wings in tribute to the ultimate human desire for the power of flight, for an exhibition during the 2015 Venice Art Biennale.
The installation, housed in the Berengo Foundation’s Centre for Contemporary Art and Glass on the island of Murano, was part of Glasstress 2015 Gotika, an exhibition organized by Russia’s State Hermitage Museum and glass company Berengo Studio.
Please update your browser to access Creative Exchange Agency.
To request a PDF, please enter your email address. Once your PDF has been generated, you will receive an email with a download link.