Local Arts

A new Mint exhibit uses light and technology to explore links between man and nature

Art and tech collide in the latest exhibit at the Mint Museum Uptown and it may change your mind about experimental art.

“Immersed in Light: Studio Drift at the Mint” consists of five works by a Dutch studio that use light, computers, drones and even hundreds of dandelion seeds to explore the connections between man, nature and technology.

Mint Museum curator Annie Carlano and Studio Drift founders Lonneke Gordijn and Ralph Nauta collaborated on the exhibition. The works to display include: “Amplitude,” “Coded Coincidence,” “Drifters,” “Fragile Future, 3.5” and “Franchise Freedom,” a documentary film.

It’s Studio Drift’s first solo museum exhibition outside Europe. “We created it,” said Carlano, senior curator of craft, design and fashion at the Mint. “It’s really a point of pride for the institution and for Charlotte.”

“I’ve been very interested in immersive lighting design that is being created by designers and artists across the globe,” Carlano said. “It’s often what we refer to as experiential art or art and tech. It really responds to the 21st century audience’s desire for more of an emotional connection to the artistic experience.”

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This is an up-close look at part of Studio Drift’s “Fragile Future” installation. The light sculpture consists of bronze electrical circuits connected to light emitting dandelions. Yes, those are real dandelion seeds, picked by hand and glued to LED lights. Guillaume Ziccarelli Courtesy of the Mint Museum

Connecting with art

Museum visitors experience “Amplitude” first, an intentional decision, Carlano said. The piece contains 20 glass tubes with brass weights. Together it moves like a giant bird or ocean waves.

Looking at it people may feel calm and less stress. Carlano encourages visitors to spend time with the work – meditate, sit on the floor, or grab a portable seat from Guest Services.

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Lonneke Gordijn, left, and Ralph Nauta stand by their piece called “Fragile Futures,” at the Mint Museum Uptown in Charlotte on Thursday September 19, 2019. Studio Drift is a collection of five works by the two creators to explore the connection and boundaries of nature and technology. Joshua Komer

“For us, it is very important that you have that physical experience with the space, with the moment, with the work,” Gordijn said. “It’s a very different role for the audience.”

Nature and animals have always been central to Gordijn’s practice. She makes objects come to life with motors, software, mechanical and electronic equipment. The technology is necessary to create the movement and light for the visual and emotional experience, something nature does automatically.

Gordijn wants visitors to tune into self when they experience a piece by Studio Drift. “It’s a connection with yourself that we very often lose when we get too much in our heads,” she said. “We want to establish a connection between yourself and the environment, and if those things are aligned, then you feel good.”

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Lonneke Gordijn, left, and Ralph Nauta of Studio Drift talk about their piece called “Amplitude.” Gordijn says the piece on display at the Mint Museum Uptown expresses the fundamental steps in nature of movement in our evolutionary process. Joshua Komer

Raised on technology

The Mint expects to attract new visitors to this exhibit, ones raised on technology, said Mint president and CEO Todd Herman.

“They (Studio Drift) embody what I want to see us do,” Herman said. “They’re cutting-edge, not only within the art world, but with technology. It has some of the most innovative and interesting work coming out of it, and also appeals to a younger audience, which is something we want to explore.”

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The “Fragile Future” installation at the Mint Museum Uptown was created by Lonneke Gordijn and Ralph Nauta of Studio Drift. It’s part of the “Immersed in Light” exhibition, which remains at the museum through April 26. Joshua Komer

Inspiring others

Studio Drift opened in 2007 after Gordijn and Nauta graduated from the famed Design Academy Eindhoven in the Netherlands. They hope to inspire others to find possibilities, use imagination and do what it takes to make it happen, Gordijn said.

“I want to show the visitor what contemporary art can be about,” Nauta said. “What are the new frontiers of expressing ourselves in a very pure, but in a reactive way to what’s happening in the world today. It needs to be something you can relate to.”

The studio is in Amsterdam and employs 40 people — architects, artists, designers and engineers from all over the world. Another 20 work from home, hand-gluing dandelion seeds onto LED lights with tweezers for the “Fragile Future” piece.

Gordijn and Nauta present challenging problems and depend on their team to develop solutions. The studio’s atmosphere has a “can do” attitude.

“We don’t do this all by ourselves,” said Gordijn, “because our work contains lots of research. They (the staff) play an important role in our process. It’s so complex what we do, and we need their input.”

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This piece, called “Amplitude,” is one of five Studio Drift pieces included in the “Immersed in Light” exhibition at the Mint Museum Uptown. All five works by the Dutch studio explore connections between humans, nature and technology. Courtesy of the Mint Museum

A piece of Amsterdam

At the Mint, Studio Drift’s “Coded Coincidence” piece is a work in progress, a collaboration between the museum and the studio. It’s inspired by Amsterdam’s elm trees and imitates how natural forces carry elm seeds. Over the duration of the exhibition Studio Drift will make changes so the work evolves. Students from local universities will be invited to watch while staff works on it.

Eventually, visitors will be able to immerse themselves in “Coded Coincidence” by walking inside a 26-by-15-foot acrylic chamber. Thirty blowers simulate wind, causing dozens of small white paper boxes to swirl around the chamber. The boxes substitute for the elm seeds until the work is further tested.

Several iterations of this work will be seen while the exhibition is in Charlotte.

“These pieces are not just something that you turn out and it works,” Nauta said. “It’s a proper effort. We’re developing technology or hardware, software, mechanics — everything has to work over a period of time, not just for a week, but for years.”

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This piece, called “Fragile Future,” is part of the “Immersed in Light” exhibition, which includes five pieces from Studio Drift of the Netherlands. Courtesy of the Mint Museum

Tech as art

Studio Drift develops multiple projects at a time – some take longer than others to complete. The idea for “Franchise Freedom” came to Gordijn and Nauta when they watched starlings fly through the sky. They wanted to create something to mimic that flight pattern.

Ten years after they conceived the idea it was brought to life in 2017 as 600 drones flew over Faena Beach at Art Basel Miami. Studio Drift created the algorithm to fly the drones in starling-like patterns and partnered with Intel to develop the technology for one computer to operate all the drones.

One certified drone pilot pushed the button to activate the software and hundreds of drones, each 15-feet apart, flew in a carefully choreographed pattern.

Why 10 years? “It can be simply because the technology is not there yet,” said Gordijn, “which was the case with the drones. Quite often our ideas are more advanced than where the technology stands.”

A documentary film about “Franchise Freedom” is part of the Mint exhibit. It showcases the drones flight across the Nevada desert at Burning Man in 2018 while Dutch composer Joep Beving’s “Ab Ovo” plays.

Nauta said he wants people who see Studio Drift’s art to be surprised by what is humanly possible. “I want to take them into a relationship with a material, a process or a thought that they didn’t have before,” he said.

Want to go?

What: “Immersed in Light: Studio Drift at the Mint”

When: Now through April 26, 2020

Where: Mint Museum Uptown, 500 S. Tryon St.

Details: 704-337-2000 or mintmuseum.org

This story is part of an Observer underwriting project with the Thrive Campaign for the Arts, supporting arts journalism in Charlotte.

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