Two Years After Studio Drift’s Floating Monolith Dazzled the Armory Show, It’s Back and It’s Bigger Than Ever

The design duo's work is on view in Finland alongside the country's first-ever show dedicated to Magritte.

Studio Drift's Drifter. Photo: Stella Ojala

With Studio Drift, things are not as they seem. The Amsterdam-based duo, made up of Lonneke Gordijn and Ralph Nauta, straddles the boundaries between art, technology, and design, specializing in installations that completely mesmerize the senses. These are works you need to directly experience to understand.

Their newest exhibition, “Elemental,” which opened yesterday, March 6, at the Amos Rex museum in Helsinki, might trigger the memories of anyone who came across the duo’s presentation at the 2017 Armory Show. Two years ago in New York, they installed a monolithic, gravity-defying block in mid-air. That work, titled Drifter, has found new life as the centerpiece of their new exhibition—and the work is bigger than ever.

And the question people want answered about the floating cube remains the same: how?

“Explaining how Drifter works would destroy the fantasy,” Nauta says, deferring the question. “A sense of wonder, and the emotion of the discovery, is what we want to achieve with the piece. A lot of technological development is driven from a financial point of view, when it should be driven from thinking about how it impacts society. That relationship between technology, art, and storytelling is what drives what we do.”

Materialism, a deconstructed Volkswagen Beetle by Studio Drift, on view at Amos Rex.

Materialism, a deconstructed Volkswagen Beetle by Studio Drift, on view at Amos Rex.

The duo’s embrace of surreal themes is delightfully paired with the other exhibition on view at Amos Rex: the first show in Finland dedicated to the Belgian painter René Magritte (on view through May 19.) The 20th-century artist’s retrospective includes several paintings that seem to echo the shapes and playfulness of Studio Drift. Most incredibly, one of Magritte’s paintings on view at Amos Rex, Les Marches de l’Été from 1938, features similarly monolithic cubes floating in the sky.

“When I look at Magritte’s work, I see the same fascination and disbelief in the world around him that we have. It’s extremely humbling to have this show alongside ours,” Nauta says.

Although he and Gordjin had been privately floating the idea of engaging with Magritte’s work for a while, the museum’s decision to pair their solo presentations was a complete coincidence. “Sometimes the universe is like that,” he says. “There is such a strong relevance between Drifter and some of the themes in Magritte’s paintings, especially in regards to perceptions of nature. Magritte was so ahead of his time.”

Magritte's <i>Les Marches de l'Été (1938).</i> Courtesy Amos Rex.

Magritte’s Les Marches de l’Été (1938). Courtesy Amos Rex.

The exhibition in Helsinki also includes a film based on Drifter, as well as several sculptures and installations, including Fragile Futures, which consists of thousands of dandelions that were handpicked in the Netherlands. The individual seeds are glued onto LED lights that are built into an interconnected bronze electrical circle. The work, which dates back to 2009, is modular, so Studio Drift has been able to scale it to the space of Amos Rex, in order to occupy the walls, ceilings, and floor.

In Materialism, the duo have deconstructed a Volkswagen Beetle, an emblem of their youth in the late 1960s and ’70s, reimagining every facet of the car as a block of material scaled to the amount of space it takes up within the vehicle. There is also a deconstructed Nokia phone, Finnish scissors, and plastic bag. Nauta says they will continue to explore local objects with this traveling series.

“How can one ever be bored in the world that we live in?” Nauta says. “It’s endlessly fascinating, an object like a combustion engine, it’s pure poetry.”

Studio Drift: Elemental” and “Magritte” are on view at Amos Rex through May 19.

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