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This poetic exhibition entreats us to work with nature, not disrupt it

Design and science can be a force for good.

Human technological advancement often seems to be at odds with the natural world. In the U.S., we nearly drove animals like the buffalo extinct due to unsustainable hunting. The industrial revolution brought factories that put smog in the air and chemicals in the water. Clear-cutting, deforestation, and urban sprawl have depleted natural resources and habitats over decades. But technology doesn’t have to be a disruptive force, as the Dutch artist collective Studio DRIFT shows in a new exhibit.

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Cofounded by Lonneke Gordijn and Ralph Nauta, Studio DRIFT just opened its first major exhibit in San Francisco in a former church and the current home of Carpenters Workshop Gallery and Saint Joseph’s Arts Society. The exhibition, called DRIFT: About Nature, Technology, and Humankind, on view until April 30, brings what may seem like very different disciplines—design, science, and art—together in three works that use technology to imitate nature.

Lonneke Gordijn and Ralph Nauta [Photo: Carpenters Workshop Gallery]
One of the works, Flylight, uses glass tubes that are hung from the ceiling at varying lengths, and that light up to mimic a swirling flock of birds. According to Carpenters Workshop Gallery, it also simulates the behavior of a flock “as a self-organized unit” through software that responds to external stimulation. Fragile Future II speaks to potential combinations of natural and technological forms by using both organic and man-made materials and structures. The work is made of LED lights connected by copper wire, and covered in dandelion seeds. The third work on display is a video installation of the studio’s performative sculpture Franchise Freedom, which used a fleet of drones to simulate the movements of birds. The exhibition is also supported by the work of eight other artists.

By integrating technology and natural forms, Studio DRIFT shows that just because two things may be in juxtaposition with each other doesn’t mean that they have to be at odds. “Following the heightened environmental disasters that we have all witnessed recently, we hope this show can suggest that technology and nature can work in tandem to move the conversation forward,” Gordijn and Nauta told me via email. “The future of our planet and society has been top of mind for many in recent years, and our exhibition at Carpenters Workshop Gallery asks: How can artists be part of the conversation? How can technology contribute to the solution?”

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About the author

Lilly Smith is an associate editor of Co.Design. She was previously the editor of Design Observer, and a contributing writer to AIGA Eye on Design.

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