Lonneke Gordijn and Ralph Nauta with Fragile Future art piece

Immersed in Light: Studio Drift at the Mint

Lonneke Gordijn and Ralph Nauta with Fragile Future art piece
Lonneke Gordijn and Ralph Nauta with Fragile Future, from an article by Freunde von Freunden

“People find the time to look at art within a gallery setting, but the world is one big exhibition if you only care to look.” –Studio Drift, 2017.

The Mint Museum is organizing the first solo museum exhibition outside Europe by Studio Drift, a design group based in the Netherlands that creates breathtaking sculptures that explore the relationship between humanity, nature and technology. Dutch artists Ralph Nauta (b.1978) and Lonneke Gordijn (b.1980) established their studio in 2007, after graduating from the prestigious Design Academy Eindhoven. Their work emanates from their distinct, yet complementary and intertwined interests. Whereas Nauta has long been fascinated by science fiction and futuristic thinking, Gordijn has an abiding interest in nature, which she views as more hi-tech than anything humans could create. Accordingly, in bringing their ideas to life, they approach technology from “an intuitive and emotional perspective,” as Gordijn puts it, often using it to emulate nature and ultimately to create an emotional experience for the viewer. Frequently new technology must be developed to realize their ideas, requiring ongoing collaborations with scientists, university research facilities, computer programmers, and engineers. Over the years Studio Drift has grown to 20 employees, who manage a busy schedule of commissions, gallery shows, and other projects around the world.

In 2018 the studio had their first solo exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. They have won numerous international design awards and have participated in group shows such as Design Society at the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) in 2016 and What is Luxury?, a collaboration between the V&A and the Crafts Council in 2015. Studio Drift’s work has been featured at several major design fairs including Design Miami/Basel, Art Paris Art Fair, Dubai Design Week, artmonte-carlo, FOG Design + Art, and ZONA MACO. Their design works and site-specific installations are included in the permanent collections of the Rijksmuseum, Indianapolis Museum of Art, SF MoMA, and others.

This exhibition will feature five works by Studio Drift dating from the last decade to today, most of which have been customized for the Mint, and one installation, Seeds (working title only), premiering here. This blog post is the first in a series that will explore each of the works in the exhibition and offer a behind-the-scenes view of the exhibition’s development.

Studio Drift. Fragile Future 3, 2015, installation at Cidade Materrazo, Brazil

The story of Studio Drift starts with its lighting installation Fragile Future, a network of bronze electrical circuits and dandelion puffs made of LED lights to which dandelion seeds have been individually hand-glued. It is a profound and poetic reflection on the fact that light is the basis and sustenance of all life as well as a testament to the transience of our life and times. Delicate dandelion puffs are the ultimate symbol of ephemerality, yet here they are frozen in time, unable to fulfill their original purpose. Instead, they filter the LED lights and appear to either give power to them or derive power from them.

Studio Drift. Fragile Future Chandelier (Detail). Courtesy of Carpenters Workshop Gallery

Fragile Future began as Gordijn’s graduation project at the Design Academy Eindhoven after she noticed the similarity between LED lights and the centers of dandelions and realized that the seeds could be used to filter light. As she told Modern magazine in its spring 2017 issue, “It worked out perfectly and the hard light was spread so organically and softly. This was the first time that I realized that nature and technology did not have to be enemies, but could also be connected with each other and even share a similar size and aesthetic.”

After graduating, Gordijn and Nauta, who had been friends since their first days at Eindhoven, founded Studio Drift and developed Fragile Future further. Early versions were individual light fixtures, but the concept soon evolved into modules—just as dandelions are weeds, notorious for spreading everywhere, Fragile Future can expand in any direction. Essentially a three-dimensional circuit board without the board, it can be mounted on walls, hung from a ceiling, or spread across the floor. Lonneke and Ralph describe the development of the work in this video:

Studio Drift showed Fragile Future in 2007 at the Salone del Mobile in Milan, the major international design fair, and immediately received accolades.  This success enabled them to show the work at Design Miami the following year, leading to representation by the Paris-based Carpenters Workshop Gallery. A show of Fragile Future by that gallery at the PAD design fair in Paris in 2009 sold out the edition of eight plus four artist’s proofs. Since then, Studio Drift have continued making new iterations of Fragile Future while also exploring ever more ambitious ideas in other sculptures, which will be described in upcoming blog posts. Their exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum included the largest installation of Fragile Future to date, shown below; the version shown at The Mint Museum will be of similar size.

Studio Drift. Fragile Future 3, 2018, installation at Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. Photo: Gert Jan van Rooij

Augmented Reality

As an artist whose work spans performance art, music, sound, light, architecture, and virtual reality, Vesna Petresin’s perspective is in great demand. In addition to designing Lumisonica for The Mint Museum, Vesna has had a busy year full of exciting projects. During the last six weeks alone, she presented at three major events: the Netherlands Film Festival (Utrecht, The Netherlands, September 27 – October 5); the Beyond Festival and Symposium (Center for Media Arts, Karlsruhe, Germany, October 3 – 7); and VR Days Europe (Amsterdam, October 24 – 26). Additionally, she gave a talk at the TNW Conference at the Technical University of Munich in March, and since January has served as an Artist-in-Residence at the Amsterdam Academy for the Arts.

Vesna Petresin performing in Open Studio, a mixed reality experience, ID Lab, Theatre and Dance Academy, Amsterdam 2018

According to its website, the Netherlands Film Festival is “the leading platform for the Netherlands’ national film culture. It celebrates the achievements of Dutch filmmakers and provides the bridge between film culture and all facets of Dutch society….It is active throughout the year, stimulating and promoting Dutch film culture before the 9-day extravaganza in late September” when the best productions of the previous 12 months are presented. “These days, cinema is more than just films, and so NFF incorporates into its program disciplines that draw inspiration from, and themselves influence, the cinematic narrative form, from TV drama, music, and visual arts to games and interactive productions.” This year was the festival’s 38th year.

Vesna spoke on a panel in the “Our Brave New World” session, moderated by Dr. Dan Hassler-Forest, a researcher, writer, and lecturer at Utrecht University. In Vesna’s words, this panel was “about the utopian and dystopian aspects of new imaging and media technologies.” In describing her talk, entitled “The Real and the Virtual of VR,” she wrote, “The strength of Virtual Reality is that it offers the possibility to experience artificial realities as real: time and space fused into a “modulated” reality. Within this medium, my performance work has a strong idiosyncratic signature, exploring the medium in various contexts. My work is in transdisciplinary art and Research & Development – through performance and public art I examine the processes of transformation and the concept of time.”

Following her talk, Vesna presented Matter = Information, a new immersive sound and light VR experience for HTC Hive, which she created in collaboration with the Dutch VR developer Aron Fels.

Vesna Petresin and Aron Fels, still image from Matter = Information, 2018

The theme for this year’s Beyond Festival was Virtual Reality, Artificial Intelligence and Post-Capitalism. Its website states: “Within the coming decades new technologies are going to change our lives and the way we perceive it beyond our expectations. The BEYOND Festival is a creative collaboration of science, technology and art, an experimental laboratory for new forms of art, which simultaneously offers a glance at social effects regarding new technologies in a global context…It is a festival of films, audio-visual installations and additionally a symposium which exhibits new forms of art and media, such as 2D, 3D, artificial intelligence, virtual-, mixed- and augmented reality.”

Vesna expanded on the idea of matter as information in her talk, “Present Continuous.” She describes the talk thusly: “As the world of technology focuses on the process from bits to particles and from particles back to bits, the impact of social change through technology gives rise to a digital world order. Here, our value is defined by what we contribute to data processing. The culture of flow, Interaction, sharing, tracking, prosuming [serving as both producer and consumer], redefines ways in which we learn, work, trade, communicate and relax. In the world when the ancient myths are fused with emergent godlike technologies such as artificial intelligence and genetic engineering, how will we define what it means to be human?” Vesna presented similar ideas in her talk at the Technical University of Munich in March.

After the talk Vesna again presented the VR experience, Matter = Information.

Vesna Petresin and Aron Fels, still image from Matter = Information, 2018

For the exhibition portion of the Beyond Festival, Vesna showed The Scores of Chaos, a VR experience based on composer György Ligeti’s musical notation, which she created with a team in Amsterdam called the XR Base Unit. They worked at XRBASE Amsterdam, a co-working space and production company for immersive content that has locations across Europe. Vesna has worked with XRBASE Amsterdam (formerly known as VRBase) on several projects, including content visualization and modeling for Lumisonica.

Still image from The Scores of Chaos | Executive producer: Daniel ‘Kip’ Doornink | Fractal artist: Julius Horsthuis |Creative coders: Sander Sneek, Ruud op den Kelder | Creative advisor: Vesna Petresin | Voice-over audio: Whoozy Music | Supported by XMG, Sensiks
All music by György Ligeti performed by Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Cappella Amsterdam.

Vesna writes, “The Scores of Chaos is an immersive experience, commissioned by Muziekgebouw (Amsterdam 2018) as an homage to the musical genius of the contemporary Hungarian composer Ligeti.

His music featured in some of the most iconic scenes in Stanley Kubrick’s work, making this collaboration groundbreaking for the history of the moving image. Ligeti’s fascination with the world of fractals, chaos and multisensory experience of music, has been the inspiration behind an imaginary trip into the world of his scores. Music becomes an immersive visual landscape, a doorway into the otherworldly beauty of mathematics, of our imagination, and the universe.”

György Ligeti’s music also inspired Vesna’s sound composition for Lumisonica.

VR Days Europe is “a conference and exhibition focused on Virtual, Augmented, and Mixed Reality XR content, creativity, and innovation” comprising keynotes, sessions, workshops, and seminars led by “over 140 thought leaders and experts drawn from the health, technology, business, and arts sectors.”

Vesna presented a talk at the Museum Morning panel, at which creators, producers and artists shared projects that successfully used XR (X Reality) technology in the museum and heritage sector. The panel’s moderator was Daan Kip, a co-founder of VR Days Europe and founder of the XRBASE network. Other panelists included Nina Diamond, Content Manager at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Vesna’s talk, “Immersive Ambients,” discussed how “Interactive media allow us to create immersive environments and experiences outside of the ‘white cube’ of a gallery or the ‘black box’ of a theatre.” She writes, “To create a fusion of the built environment and the media, my practice utilizes the conceptof a smart, playable city…. People actively shape their environment; my work attempts to render visible and audible the impact we have on the world – on the shapes, colors, sounds, emotions, social experiences and physical processes – simply by being here.” She discussed Lumisonica, among other projects.

Vesna also hosted a session in the Philosopher’s Salon, a yurt where visitors took off their shoes, refrained from using technology, and discussed questions surrounding XR technology such as human relationships with virtual characters and the ethical implications of humans carrying out acts in virtual environments that are illegal in the real world.

Vesna’s talk, another version of “Present Continuous,” focused on presence in Virtual, Physical, and Mixed Reality. “As our present looks increasingly dystopian, questions arise about the future and the impact of social change through technology, while a new digital world order seems to be taking shape. A sense of presence in virtual worlds is akin to an escape from the trauma of existence. a largely disembodied experience allowing to play god. Rethinking the philosopher Montaigne, the sensory perception may well be synonymous with sensory illusion, as the meaning of the truth seems to become intangible, and commodified,” she writes of her talk. Afterward she led a conversation among salon visitors.

Throughout her research and artistic practice, Vesna Petresin engages with pressing questions around the relationship between humans and technology in the twenty-first century. Lumisonica extends that inquiry to the environment of The Mint Museum, creating an enhanced experience in which visitors’ interactions with the technology on the staircase lead to new perceptions of their effect on the spaces they inhabit. Come to the debut of Lumisonica at Mint Museum Uptown at Levine Center for the Arts, 500 South Tryon Street, on Friday night, November 16, from 6 to 9 PM to experience it yourself.

Four people, including the artist Vesna Petresin, sitting around a table at Halcyon, Flavors from the Earth.

Turning light and sound into Lumisonica

A project as complex and technologically advanced as Lumisonica requires close collaboration among many people. And while it may seem ironic for a project involving digital technology, the best format for such collaboration is through face-to-face meetings. For this reason, Vesna Petresin traveled from her current home base of London to The Mint Museum to work on Lumisonica on October 9 and 10. She spent much of her time with two key people: Creative Design Lead Ben Mason, who is based in Asheville, and lighting consultant Terry Reeves, who also traveled from London.

Read More

3D rendering of Lumisonica on the stairs of Mint Museum Uptown

Musical Stairs

Lumisonica, the interactive light and sound installation designed by Vesna Petresin for the Grand Staircase at Mint Museum Uptown and scheduled to debut this November, marks the Mint Museum’s first experience with this kind of multimedia, interdisciplinary, intangible art. To recap a previous blog post, Lumisonica is “based on the concept of a smart, playable city. It encompasses disciplines from architecture, lighting design, sound design, choreography and set design, to interactive visual arts.” Read More