300 Illuminated Drones Just Swarmed a Dutch Hospital as Part of a Secret Guerilla Artwork by Studio Drift to Honor Frontline Workers

The dazzling event was also one of the only public commemorations of the 75th anniversary of Dutch Liberation Day.

Studio Drift's Franchise Freedom Rotterdam (2020). Photo © Ossip_van_Duivenbode.
Studio Drift's Franchise Freedom Rotterdam (2020). Photo © Ossip_van_Duivenbode.

The artist duo Studio Drift staged a surprise performance in the skies above a Dutch hospital last night in tribute to frontline medical workers, and in commemoration of the 75th anniversary of Dutch Liberation Day, when the country was freed from German control at the end of World War II.

The dazzling event over the Erasmus MC hospital in Rotterdam, which was planned in secret so as not to encourage gatherings of viewers, included the flight of 300 illuminated drones.

Artists Lonneke Gordijn and Ralph Nauta from Studio Drift and their artwork Franchise Freedom. Photo ©Stefan Heijdendael.

Artists Lonneke Gordijn and Ralph Nauta from Studio Drift and their artwork, Franchise Freedom. Photo © Stefan Heijdendael.

“So much hard work was put into this performance,” Ralph Nauta and Lonneke Gordijn, the two artists in the collective, which also goes by Drift, told Artnet News in a statement. “The whole experience got us extremely nervous, but also excited. Colleagues, friends, families—no one could know what we were working on. Sharing our work is very important to us, but public safety has been our number one priority during this entire process.”

The performance, which included a piano composition by Joep Beving that was played inside the Rotterdam hospital, was a special edition of Franchise Freedom, a work the duo first presented at Art Basel Miami Beach in 2017. It was also staged at Burning Man in 2018, and at the grounds of NASA last year to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing.

In the modified Rotterdam performance, the drones also came together to form the shape of a beating heart.

DRIFT Franchise Freedom Rotterdam(2020). Photo ©Ossip_van_Duivenbode.

Franchise Freedom Rotterdam (2020). Photo © Ossip van Duivenbode.

“We wanted to remind the world that we can only get through this together,” the artists said. “We have seen during our previous performances that when people see the artwork together, it unites them. They are all looking at the same thing, and feel part of a collective experience.”

For the artists, coordinating the flight of 300 drones was also a metaphor about individuals coming together for group action.

“In the clasp of COVID-19, our society is also dependent on our individual actions. It’s time we look towards nature to learn to be a collective,” they said, referring to the fact that the drones simulated the flight patterns of starlings. 

“It was an amazing experience,” they said of the event. “For two hours we brought together thousands of people from all around the globe to connect, even when it’s not physically possible.”


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