Why Studio Drift’s social design is hypocritical

Hello, an email from Phaidon publishers. They had good news: I was already able to sign up for the soon-to-be-released new ambitious first book by design duo Studio Drift, Choreography of the future. Phaidon, one of the largest art book publishers in the world, is proud: “Over the course of more than a decade, DRIFT’s immersive, comprehensive and often site-specific projects have been exhibited around the world, offering a meditative and poetic experience and addressing themes such as the relationship between the individual and the collective and impact. technology in our society.” Suddenly I was done with it.

Admittedly, I’ve had a hard time with Studio Drift’s work for a long time. It is kitsch after all: Drift, consisting of Lonneke Gordijn and Ralph Nauta, deals with empty, meaningless gestures that suggest depth but revolve around simple sensations. Take their floating ‘concrete block’ (which isn’t a concrete block, huhuh), their drone formations that form specific patterns in the dark (a heart!) or their lamps surrounded by dandelion fluff: Drift’s work consists of jokes, effects, tricks. magic. That’s bad enough, but it gets even worse because the Drift duo invariably justify their work with roaring, half-hearted lyrics and videos where words like urgent, current, ecology and society are constantly mentioned. Alone see you don’t have that obligation: any serious social engagement is miles away from Drift’s pleating, creepy visuals that seem made solely to satisfy the largest possible consuming mass. Hipster kitsch, it’s Drift – ‘choreographing the future’: choreographing your ego and your bank account, it is.

Coincidentally, there had been a press release about Drift a few weeks earlier. This time from the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, who happily reported that the museum had acquired three works from Drifts materialismseries, including ‘Volkswagen Beetle 1980’. materialism (“an ongoing research project”) has a clear concept: Drift takes an object, a Spa bottle, a Rolex watch, a Volkswagen Beetle, and takes it apart to analyze what materials it is made of and in what quantities. Drift then assembles these materials into densely pressed blocks, with the size of each block indicating the amount of material used to, in unsavory Drift parlance, “poetically call attention to the human impact on our environment.”

When I read this, I immediately recognized the idea: Drift’s deconstruction concept is very similar to a series of works that the Spanish artist Lara Almarcegui, who lives in the Netherlands, has made since 2013, including in the Spanish pavilion at the Venice Biennale. Almarcegui calculated exactly what materials the pavilion was made of and how much of each. She then had these materials, in raw form, dumped into large mountains in the same pavilion. It was fantastic: as a spectator, you stood in a building with the same raw material building at your feet. The result was that people immediately began to fantasize about the way raw material was transformed into building material, how a building actually “works” and what processes take place between raw materials and finished construction.

Also read this review about the exhibition in the Stedelijk, of which ‘Materialism’ was a part: Eighty suggestions for a better world

At the same time, Almarcegui’s work as artwork is quite unruly – her idea is reserved for large, empty spaces like museums, and because it only applies to one building at a time, all the calculations have to be done each time, making it difficult to repeat and difficult to sell. And let that be the biggest difference with Drifts materialism: By applying the same process to consumables, and pressing the materials into blocks, Drift makes the deconstruction manageable and salable.

And Drift is careful not to complicate things. Unlike, for example, Almarcegui, they do not mention the exact quantities of material, nor do they take into account the work process. Exactly what amount of material does the beetle consist of? Does the (remarkably small) stack of dice exactly shape the Beetle? What about things like material density? Because of that vagueness, there isn’t much left to ‘call attention to the human impact’, and because Drift can’t resist polishing the blocks entirely in their lust for brilliance, not a second thought is given to extraction processes, environmental damage or construction, but you only wonder which cuddly or shiny block represents which material. Drift has time to make a coquettish link in the accompanying text on their website to the work of abstract artists such as Hilma af Klint and Piet Mondriaan and suggest that materialism takes place on the same platonic level as the work of these two greats.

It actually annoys me.

Also read this interview: Dreaming of floating concrete blocks with Studio Drift

Daan Roosegaarde

Because this is not just about Studio Drift. In the process around materialism we see a perfect echo of the working process of the other Dutch artist/designer who balances so virtuosically on the border between art and design and on the border between originality and borrowing: Daan Roosegaarde. Like Drift, he’s built an entire career on a combination of glow kitsch and light art (has anyone ever thought about how utterly ridiculous a ‘Van Gogh cycle path’ is?) and an ‘inspirational practice’ that now you can too use on Drifter materialism looking.

Collection Studio Drift, Amsterdam

Roosegaarde’s Floating Landscape: Zoro Feigl. His horizons at the DWDD pop-up museum: Ger van Elk. Smoke Tower: scientist Bob Ursem. And yes, on September 25 Roosegaarde finds a new project in Leiden Seeing stars place where he (in collaboration with Unesco!) will encourage as many people and businesses in the city as possible to turn off their lights at night – a concept that has existed for years under the name ‘Night of the night’. Roosegaarde invariably denies such ‘inspiration’, attributing it each time to chance or synchronicity, and quibbles about tall trees and ground height. But it is also striking that both Drift and Roosegaarde invariably claim that they do an enormous amount of research, but that they always manage to overlook the one work that is very similar to theirs.

Still, there’s something else that art lovers should be more concerned about—or rather, a little more pissed off about. The Drifts and Roosegaardes of this world erode visual art. It is crucial for their practice that they use the conceptual ideas smartly, in the sense that the ‘story behind the work’ is an important addition and extension of the physical work.

Collection Studio Drift, Amsterdam

There is nothing wrong with that, the best artists do it too, but it is always important that there is a clear connection between the form of the work and the pretensions implied in the underlying concept. How are concept and image related? How is a gap between the two explained? This also regularly goes wrong in the visual arts, but it is usually because the concept is considered so important (to the annoyance of many) (excessively long text signs) that the physical work comes off rather poorly (and at the same time the work is hardly commercially attractive) .

Drift and Roosegaarde work in reverse: they use steamy concepts to elevate their empty, slick Efteling tricks to ‘art’. They can do this because they slide flawlessly between the masks of art and design, and because neither design nor the art world dares to take them seriously: Both worlds seem to think that it goes well after the other.

Floating light

Among other things, the Stedelijk should be concerned that this is happening. Museums are first and foremost the institutions that must monitor both worlds and keep them sharp. It is not entirely successful: While e.g. The Stedelijk’s autonomous department has in recent years emphatically promoted a consumption-critical, committed attitude to art, the same museum’s design department cheerfully brings in Drift and Roosegaarde, who with their false -introduce shiny consumer kitsch commitment – and even worse, using their recognition from the Stedelijk, a beacon of content and involvement, to convincing the whole range of prestigious clients of their importance. As a result, the Stedelijk contributes significantly to the dissemination and popularization of this type of work. It also feels like giving in to laziness: museums in particular should be the place where ‘difficult’ art like that of Almarcegui, for example, gets a place, and not the flat, mouth-watering bits of Drift.

Still, Drift’s hypocrisy is the worst. While the world is shrouded in catastrophes and tides—climate change, wildfires—Studio Drift is using the end of the world to sell floating lights and polished blocks of blocks. Serious art institutions and major clients agreeing to this actually indicates that such sham is okay, that you can get away with it in the art world, that appearance and sales pitch are more important than substance. We don’t want to go down that road.

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