Lyrical luminescence

A Dutch conceptual design studio that creates poetic handmade light installations

Visitors to this year’s PAD (Pavilion of Art and Design) in Paris are due for a treat. For the first time, the fair has commissioned a work for the entrance – a spectacular, signature piece by the young and talented Studio Drift. Flylight (first and second pictures) is an interactive light installation, 9m wide, that responds to its viewers like a flock of birds.

Lonneke Gordijn and Ralph Nauta, who founded Studio Drift in 2007, met at the Design Academy Eindhoven in the Netherlands, a school famed for its highly conceptual approach to design and counting global names such as Jurgen Bey and Piet Hein Eek among its alumni. Drift made an impact from the start, launching its Fragile Future project in 2008 with a truly incredible piece that saw Gordijn and Nauta meticulously dismantle dandelions seed by seed before gluing each one to an LED bulb. The result resembles an illuminated dandelion head, and is an awe-inspiring work that challenges viewers to think again about a plant accorded very little value. It also speaks about what time has come to mean in a world where none of us seem to have enough of it. (It’s now available to buy on the studio’s website: Dandelight, €85)

Fragile Future propelled Studio Drift to international awareness and gained it representation from Carpenters Workshop Gallery. Its work has been shown at La Biennale di Venezia, the V&A and MAD (Museum of Arts and Design) in New York, among other places.

Today, the Amsterdam-based studio comprises a permanent team of studio manager, production manager, engineers, technicians, production assistants and interns. Drift projects often combine radical new technologies with artisan skills and hand-craftsmanship. This is typified by Flylight, which was first conceived in 2011 and is based on the behaviour of birds in flight. Nauta explains: “The patterns that birds make are caused by the fact that no bird wants to be at the front of the group or to the side, so they are constantly challenging each other for best position. We programmed the DNA of that idea, and replicated it through technology.”

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This is classic Drift: the bringing together of the seemingly conflicting worlds of nature and technology. Other designs include Oillight, which reflects the price of oil, and Shylight, where the light is hidden in a flora-inspired cocoon.

Flylight can be produced to commission (price on request); each one is handmade and takes about 16 weeks from point of order. For those visiting PAD, Flylight can be seen there from March 27 to April 1. Be warned, though: it is such a mesmerising design that it may be hard to walk away from to see the rest of the fair.

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