Above: my photographs of Studio Drift’s The Drifter at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 2018.
Welcome to 3.01, my first blog post about Year 3 of Art Studio!
This blog post was actually started in the summer of 2018 before the academic year officially began, however this particular post is intrinsic to that year because it’s about an artwork that informed and influenced my Part 3 practice tremendously, and that artwork is Studio Drift’s The Drifter. I saw it on display at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, which is a fantastic institution dedicated to modern art and design, showcasing a huge variety of art by artists from Vincent Van Gogh to Steven Aalders. Studio Drift are the artistic collective and design firm behind The Drifter. They were founded in 2007 by Lonneke Gordijn and Ralph Nauta, and through their Amsterdam-based studio they explore the relationships between science, nature, and humanity. At the Stedelijk, their exhibition ‘Coded Nature’ involved an enormous concrete-looking block, about 5 metres long, gently floating about in mid-air.
This piece had real presence. My first impression of it was one of wonderment, excitement, hypnosis, and disbelief, and I almost immediately wanted to know how it worked. The block appeared infinitely heavy and cumbersome, and yet it hovered, rotating slowly as if it were absolutely weightless. It emitted a quiet whooshing sound, rather like that of a stationary jet aircraft. The monolith’s slow but definite movements eliminated any of our suspicions that it might have been suspended on hanging wire, which pushed it further into the realms of the supernatural and the magic. The people working at the museum refused to give up the secret of how the object actually levitated, only suggesting that the ‘whirring noise’ was a clue, and this makes it remind me of seeing an amazing magic trick. My personal theory is that the whole thing is made of some incredibly light material and stays afloat using a concealed arrangement of motorised fans. The point is, however, that I simply don’t know and the artwork is all the more successful for me, the viewer, not knowing.
If the first thing that struck me about The Drifter was its magic, the second thing was its simplicity. Although it achieves an apparent subversion of the laws of nature, as a whole it is grounded (ironic word choice!) in being simple. It only consists of one component, and that component is itself simple: a large, grey cuboid. Even the way it drifts around adds to the simplicity because it gives the impression of having no forces, not even gravity, acting upon it. It seems surrounded by nothingness.
Another key element is the process of it. The block is locked in a continuous process of repositioning itself to stay within the bounds of its exhibition space. The process begins at the beginning of the day and ends at 5pm when the museum closes, and repeats daily. This ongoing process of self-restraint gives the block a kind of personality, and also brings to mind the increasingly prominent idea of artificial intelligence. It also connects to AI because of its artificial appearance: it is industrial and concrete. I wonder how different the effect would be if it were something natural like a tree, or maybe a kind of flying island, like the fictional island of ‘Laputa’ in Gulliver’s Travels.
The overall effect is a sense of sheer awe and wonder. I felt in the presence of something supernatural, magic, or from the future; packed with cutting-edge technology. For me, it is both human and nature. The inspiration here is what I felt upon seeing it for the first time: it makes me want to create artwork that ignites the same sense of wonder in the viewer. It also involves flight, which is a subject I find fascinating. Part of me has wanted for a while to draw on flight in my artwork, and Studio Drift have demonstrated an example of how to do that successfully.
This is one of the most inspiring and refreshing artworks I have been lucky enough to see in person: I feel incredibly fortunate to have come across it. For me, the significant elements of it are the magic and the concealment of how it works, the simplicity, the process, and its motion and flight. Previously, I had not imagined this kind of art was possible, and for me the experience of seeing something that re-defined my expectations was powerful. Having seen it in person, I now want to create art that sparks similar emotions and experiences for people. This doesn’t necessarily mean using the same formal elements or the same materials, it means I want to channel the sense of magic, simplicity, process, and motion in the artwork I create in my third year.
Thank you for reading.