‘You won’t find any archetypes in our practice.’ - Ralph Nauta

Studio Drift first attracted attention with Fragile Future, a construction that filters the light of LEDs and passes it on to the seed heads of dandelions. The delicate flowers are protected and provided with power by an ingenious cage of phosphor bronze. The light sculptures can be the size of a room, but also come in the smaller, derivative form of a single, 9-volt battery-fed dandelion, the Dandelight. This month they were asked to contribute to the Burning Man festival and so they made a tree, a rather big tree.


'Tree of Ténéré' at Burning Man


Fragile Future, edition New York, photo by Guillaume Ziccarelli


In October 2010, we met Ralph Nauta and Lonneke Gordijn over dinner at a Japanese restaurant in Eindhoven on the eve of the Dutch Design Awards ceremony. Studio Drift had been shortlisted for the Rado Young Designer Award, which would eventually go to fashion designer Iris van Herpen. ‘Whereas Iris hardly knew what to do with that Rado watch, I would’ve loved to have it. But Iris’s work is really good and she certainly deserved the award!’ Ralph Nauta is a handsome young man that’s remarkably active during our interview, his very tall body slouched behind his desk. ‘To us, that night was of course all about recognition. We’d been working for quite a few years by then. Work on Fragile Future started in 2006, it was our graduation project. My point is: you have to be able to persevere if you want to make it in the design world our way. Patience, patience, patience. And that’s still our motto today, even now that we can agree that we’re successful. It starts with the development of new work. Take the larger version of the Shylight (Semblance) that we’re now installing for the first time, in the courtyard of the Citizen M Hotel in London. Its scale alone produces all kinds of problems. And in this case, the fact that the installation is exposed to the elements causes even more problems.’


Shylight at the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, 2015


‘It often takes a couple of years to figure out what the final work is going to be like, what you can do with it and what you want to achieve with it. Sometimes you really don’t know whether what’s on your mind is going to work. The aesthetics have to philosophically connect nature and technology. The end result, an object or installation, will occupy the space it’s installed in. They’re objects that tell a story through their choreography and rhythm. We don’t design chairs, tables or lamps. You won’t find any archetypes in our practice.’ ‘Science fiction has always fascinated me. In it, entire worlds are invented that resemble this one in a way, but that also leave a lot of room for speculation. To me, design is an art form that aims to guide people to new images and ideas about how the world around them could work. Designers are supposed to demonstrate this and educate their environment on the subject. The Obsidian Project, our most recent work, is now part of ‘Dream Out Loud. Designing for Tomorrow’s Demands’, an exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum. The project consists of a series of mirrors inspired by a chemist that has solved the problem of how to recycle 100 per cent of all chemical waste (including PVBs and batteries). Medieval alchemists looked for a method to transform base metals into gold. He does something similar, with 0 per cent emissions and 100 per cent recovered elements. His process also produces synthetic obsidian (volcanic glass), which we used to create reflecting objects. They symbolize the connection between technology, artistic freedom and the responsibilities we – and chemical companies – have for our environment.’


The Obsidian Project, 2016

And No Compromise

‘We never became part of the subsidy system. It would have taken too much time to get the applications up and running. We decided to go our own way, so we’d never have to explain ourselves to third parties. That’s how we started our business, unintentionally. It took our work a while to catch on. At the Design Academy, Ellie Uyttenbroek and Anne Mieke Eggenkamp did me a world of good: they taught me a no-nonsense work mentality.’ ‘At some point, Eindhoven started to wear us out. We felt its design scene was too introverted. Moving to Amsterdam in 2011 meant we had to start from scratch, but that only upped our motivation. Shortly afterwards, we won the PAD Design London Award and Fragile Future was included in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum. This really resonated in the international press and boosted our reputation. Next, Wim Pijbes acquired Shylights for the Rijksmuseum staircase hall. Thanks to that commission, we could develop it further.’ ‘Today, we are fortunate to have Pace Gallery (London, New York, Menlo Park) represent our free work and the Carpenters Workshop Gallery (Paris, London, New York) for work that’s more design-related. We’ve worked hard and purposefully to achieve that situation, but we’ve never compromised on our work. We are endlessly grateful to the people that believe in us and have supported us in this respect. Without our super team, we couldn’t have done it.’

This interview was published in WOTH issue No2  (words by Toon Lauwen, portrait by Jan Willem Kaldenbach/March 2016) still available in english via Bruil & van der Staaij. Or get a subscription here! Dutch versions of WOTH you can order in our shop and an NL subscription is available here.