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Transformation of physical spaces



Drifter (2017) at The Shed, New York, 2021. Photo by Dario Lasagni.

DRIFT’s practice often reveals itself in the transformation of physical spaces. By immersing their viewers in large-scale and embodied experiences, their installations work to disrupt and reorient their connection to immediate surroundings. DRIFT responds to the state of human presence within the contemporary acceleration of technological and natural change this way, inviting viewers to collectively reflect on their relationship to their spatial environment and, more broadly, the planet.

Chris Chow: Could you talk about the change within your practice, specifically in your transition from design to visual art? Perhaps you can talk about how that transition happened and what different modes of thinking it required you to change into. 

Lonneke Gordijn [DRIFT]: DRIFT is the result of Ralph and meour personalities and who we are. We were already those people when we first met at a design academy. If you look at the projects that I did at the [Design Academy Eindhoven], they were always installation-based and required movement and light. I think, for us, there’s not much of a transition; it’s more the context in which we present our work. 

Our work was installation-based and was a reflection of an existing space. And then, even though we worked with lights, we didn’t make lamps, necessarily. That’s not what it is about because we use light as a medium to express a particular message or emotion. So all these misfits slowly started to find their way, and at a certain point, you learn more about art and learn more about the art world. And we began to think like we had all these ideas, including floating blocks of concrete. It has nothing to do with design. But we wanted to make this, which was all part of our story. 

In 2015, we spoke for the first time with Marc Glimcher from Pace Gallery. When we showed our work to Marc Glimcher, he was very encouraging and supportive. And since then, many projects have happened. We are not the best people to give a presentation of an idea. We are the best at just doing it and showing it to convince people. In the end, it has always been our strategy to do the things that we wanted to do and then show them to other people.


CC: Interestingly, your practice comes from a way in which you’re experimenting to break from the parameters given within the design. It’s also really intriguing what design means, especially in relation to the themes you work with: nature and technology.  And design [is] like an intermediary between the two. So I’m also curious, when did nature come to become a theme within your work or artistic ideas? 

DRIFT: I think it’s really who I am, and it has been in my work as long as I can remember. When I graduated in 2005, I didn’t know that this was the direction that I was in. It’s just my nature. I love to watch the environment. Watch how animals behave, how people act, and how everything is linked to the environmental lens. I’m very interested in this whole ecosystem. It’s incredible, and I sometimes find it so weird. Many people are only interested in the artificial world. However, everything we do is part of who we are. 

The stress disappears when we make situations where we feel everything is imbalanced, and here, it works. It puts you in a particular position that makes you think and question a role against the environment or against what’s happening around you, and I believe that is what we find fascinating and what we love to bring to people. So our product is that experience […] when we feel happy [seeing] so many people act differently, but also that the work is meaningful to them​​and that it sets them into a direction of thinking and […] contributes to their personal development.

DRIFT, "Ego", 2020 – 21. Nylon fiber; Ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE) fiber monofilaments, polyester, and polyvinyl fluoride (Dyneema®); motors; aluminum; software. 236.22 x 118.11 x 118.11 inches. Photo: Dario Lasagni. Courtesy The Shed.

CC: And can you speak more about what kind of reflections or interactions you want to instill within the viewer? 

DRIFT: I would like the moments you are connected to, how you feel, who you really are, where everything suddenly makes sense. These are compelling moments, and we don’t have them every day. We can’t always steer ourselves to be. 

When we talk about our work, we talk about scenarios for the future. We first try to make people feel who they are. We’re human beings. We are affected by everything physical around us. And so when you go through exhibitions, we want to take you on a journey to steer your feelings, to make you aware of these surroundings. I hope people focus on what life is and the ingredients of life.


CC: Right, like the kind of fundamentals that bring it back to being grounded and conscious of your existence and presence in the present moment. 

DRIFT: Also, our environment is incredibly impactful on us. And I think we’re not so aware of it most of the time. Awareness is still something we can massively learn to be more conscious of. Not so many people can live, in a way, because the current capitalistic society determines space and housing by money, not by what is essential for someone to live. And people don’t necessarily need much space, but we need qualities in that space to feel good and not feel locked or anxious.


CC: Societies are getting overpopulated, and income inequality is getting higher. 

DRIFT: We are sensitive to everything that happens around us. So, you also have to shield yourself. And then we start to have a society where people just don’t want to see each other and don’t want to speak with each other. 


CC: I was reading a book that described an interesting word for it. The author is a philosopher who said societies have become more “atomized” as people are increasingly separate from each other as if they are individual particles. And I think that contributes to it, this kind of density.

DRIFT: We are so close to each other, but we are so separated.


CC: Yes! This brings me to some other questions about the idea of technology and what it’s doing with our relationship with nature. Technology is like the medium through which people and societies can control and dominate natural surroundings. So I wonder if you think about thator your take on modern technology and how it has affected our relationship with Earth. 

DRIFT: It would be great to develop inventions from incredible ideas that are already out in the scene. Which would help mankind better understand the relationship between nature and technology in modern society. But we have to be aware that it will come down to us, the humans, to take responsibility when suggesting solutions that involve utilizing technology. In the end, you can either be dominated by it or choose to create a healthy balance.


CC: Do you feel like there are sectors of technology that are changing in some direction? 

DRIFT: Oh yes, there is. Great examples would be Google or Facebook. And [hopefully] then we can have a democratic form of both [companies] looking at things worldwide. It’s the first time this could happen on this planet. And that is in line with what we need. We can’t stick to [political] decisions or countries because our problems are going over the borders. 


CC: This makes me think about a lot of the rhetoric of the conversation around blockchain technology today and how people building that space are so interested in decentralization. Taking away the power of governance and technology from one hand or a couple of hands and back into the consumers. And that also reminds me of what you’re saying about how technology is coded by different people [can…] meet other people’s needs. It’s interesting because [these ideas] of decentralization and blockchain [are]  more democratic. [They give] power to people who want to create their products with blockchain technology. There are more spaces for that [now]. DRIFT: On the other hand, many people don’t fully understand blockchain and how it exactly works. And I think technology is getting so complicatedbecause it’s so advancedthat we trust it works, but we don’t know what’s behind it. That is when our systems will crash.

Block Universe (2021) at Art Basel Miami, 2021. Photo courtesy of Pace Gallery.

CC: That’s true, dependency on a particular [methodology of systems] to keep working… 

DRIFT: So far, in countries that work, people rely on systems. We are now also relying on systems that are partly electronic and partly digital. And those systems are not in the government’s hands. We have to find a way there because our digital and technological infrastructure is now part of our infrastructure. And that comes with a big responsibility and [potential to protect people]. 


CC: I cannot agree with you more! Could you speak more about the process [of…] working on this new invention within the blockchain space. I also wanted to ask you about participating in NFT and how that came about.

DRIFT: The artwork that we made as an NFT was an artwork that would have also existed if it wasn’t an NFT because it was an augmented reality digital artwork. I think blockchain technology, the fact that you can track where the file is, and where the ownership goes, is exciting. It can be an excellent thing, especially from an artist’s perspective, that you know where your works are. I also found out that the NFT community is very linked with the crypto community, which is a group of people interested in art. Not every NFT has anything to do with art. But there is this mutual interest, and I find it very refreshing. I’m learning as we speak, and it’s like a new world that has been created.


CC: Also, it’s innovative. We’re creating a new system. 

DRIFT: Exactly. It’s a living entity. And it is the best way to develop things in a community, not by just one person; […]it’s multiple minds collaborating, coming together. It’s in development, and it’s trying. It’s also improving itself, finding its way. So I don’t think it is something so great yet. 


CC: Do you see yourself content like being more involved in that space? 

DRIFT: I’m definitely interested in it. I don’t want my world or this world to be a digital world. I [also] don’t want to ignore it because many things can be in the digital world and don’t have to use earthly matters and life. But I hope for all of us that this will be a beautiful physical world with some things in a digital space that makes sense to be in a digital area. There’s a lot to gain from the digital worldand definitely, and we are still exploring new ways of NFTs.

But I hope for all of us that this will be a beautiful physical world with some things in a digital space that makes sense to be in a digital area.”

CC: With the development of technology and blockchain, how do you see that affecting our relationship with nature or in your ideal world? How would the two coexist? How would that coexist with the pace of advancement that is happening with technology as we speak? 

DRIFT: Technology is evolving faster than our body can process, so I’m a little bit worried about that. It costs us so much to keep up with everything constantly changing. Change is natural but is very quick. That process can only cause a stress reaction, and long-term stress reactions are negatively effective on our body and body. Our bodies are made to be in a constant slow change. 


CC: It’s like two different pieces. Reconnecting with your natural surroundingsbut to keep up with technology, you also have to be hyper-vigilant. You have to take it slow, and you have to let it breathe, and you have to settle yourself within the environment.

DRIFT: I think it’s impossible to do everything. So if we spend more time in a digital space where everything goes fast, it will cost our physical life.


CC: For technology to be healthy at the pace it’s going, I think it somehow needs to incorporate a natural mechanism through which consumers maneuver it again. I’m interested in a more natural-focused approach to building technology, like how the architectures are built within symbiosis with technology. I wonder if that can be the case for the technology. How can we make technology that doesn’t destroy our relationship with nature or [destroy] nature itself, but instead helps us re-center our relationship with it? And I think that is the kind of question you explore as an artist. 

DRIFT: What you said made me think about it; an architect has the rule to develop the concept for how the future should be in that place. And then there is the fight with the project developers who have the money, and when they want it, all the parties are apart. But the architect is always the center, […keeping] the direction and [fighting] for the right thing. And maybe we need someone like this in technology, who thinks about the impact in the future and their well-being and keeps that in place and [under] defense.


CC: I wonder what that would look like or who would do that?

DRIFT: I can’t imagine what that would look like, but that’s an evolution that we need. People who can think further than [just] the impact of technologyand stir on that impact.

This story is from Issue Four.


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