Studio Drift Isn’t Afraid to Ask Really Big Questions
Designers Lonneke Gordijn and Ralph Nauta founded their Amsterdam-based design studio as a way to reflect on our increasingly complex world—ten years later, their work is more relevant than ever.
Interview by Margot van der Krogt
Photos by Sascha Luna Esmail
April 02, 2018
You met while studying at the Design Academy Eindhoven. What made you decide to start a studio together?
Ralph Nauta: During our studies we always discussed our different interests: I’ve long been into science fiction, while Lonneke was always into natural phenomena. We opened each other’s eyes to the fact that our worlds aren’t as far apart as we thought. We would, and still do, ask ourselves questions like, “Why are things the way they are?” or, “How can we change the world?”
Lonneke Gordijn: Our work relates to spaces that remind us of being human in a rapidly changing environment where technology plays a big role. We merge those influences in installations that feel close to who we are and where we’re going.
Ralph Nauta and Lonneke Gordijn of Studio Drift.
You’re not afraid to jump into the unknown. The studio collaborates with scientists, computer programmers, engineers, universities, and research facilities, often developing new technologies that push the boundaries of what art can be.
Nauta: We started before the tech revolution that’s going on now. We just had an idea of something that needed to be, and tried to create it.
Gordijn: That’s always how we work: Instead of working with things everyone else is using, we prefer to produce things [we feel] should be developed. That’s what really gives us the energy and determination we need to succeed.
I see an element of time and patience in your work: It took five years of research to get “Shylight,” a sculpture that unfolds like a flower, to fully express your idea. Where does that perseverance come from?
Gordijn: One of our strengths is that we believe we can do anything. When we’re both convinced something has to happen, we won’t let go for years. We’ll go out of our way to make it happen. But that’s also why we don’t create many works. Our processes are long and challenging and sometimes quite costly, so we’re just not capable of doing more.
Looking down on the workshop floor.
Does realizing your ideas ever get exhausting?
Nauta: The idea for “Franchise Freedom,” in which three hundred Intel Shooting Star drones mimic the spectacle of swarming starlings, took nearly ten years to develop. It was an evolution of “Flylight,” a site-specific light installation we debuted in 2009 [and later updated to a version shown at New York’s Carpenters Workshop Gallery in 2015] that simulates the behavior of a flock of birds in flight. We had to do so much research to finally achieve it [that] there were a lot of times we sort of let it go.
Gordijn: When there are huge organizations developing something like drone technology, you can’t [compete with them]as a two-person studio.
Now you work in a team of 20—I imagine a lot has changed over the years. Has your way of working has changed, too?
Nauta: When we’re working on a commission, we work with a specific team of people to develop the pieces, bring them to the location, and install them. Developing separate clusters of individuals to work on one project gives us the ability to develop new work.
Gordijn: Last summer at a workshop I gave, I heard people saying, “I can’t do that.” “I don’t know how to do that.” “I don’t think that’s possible.” These are exactly the things you never hear in our studio. Everyone here understands that you have to find a way in order to get it done. This group belief in what we’re doing is very much part of our DNA.
Models and baubles crowd the shelves of Studio Drift's Amsterdam atelier.
Your work defies reality.
Nauta: We’re still working on realizing our childhood fantasies—like making a four-by-two-meter block of concrete float, as in our 2017 installation “Drifter.” After thinking about something for a long time and finding the right partners to collaborate with, you [can] finally create something you initially thought was impossible. That’s what creativity is all about.
Speaking of possibilities, what’s next for Studio Drift?
Gordijn: This year we’re focusing on more architectural projects: One is a pavillion that is at the same time a sculpture for Paris’s Galerie Philippe Gravier, and one is an artwork on top of a building in the U.S. Both will make the architecture come alive.
Nauta: We’re also working on solo shows for galleries and exhibitions, and developing an insane eighteen thousand square meters into an artistic hub where tech and art come together. We cannot share details yet. It’s going to be something big.
Gordijn: For us, a project is never finished. Once it launches, it’s really just the start.