All things bright and technical: nature and mechanics combine in Studio Drift’s Rijksmuseum installation

All things bright and technical: nature and mechanics combine in Studio Drift’s Rijksmuseum installation

Visitors to the Rijksmuseum now have not only one of the world’s greatest art collections to look forward to, but also an elegant lighting installation called Shylight by Amsterdam-based artist-designers Studio Drift. Five large, pale, silk ’flowers’ hang high above the 18th-century Rotterdam Stair in the recently refashioned Philips Wing, dropping down, unfurling and withdrawing into themselves again like shoal of giant jellyfish as viewers move between the ground and first floors.

These kinetic sculptures may look delicate and ethereal, but they’re animated by fiendishly complex sets of pinions and springs, which took five years of research and experimentation to perfect.

Founded in 2006 by Lonneke Gordijn and Ralph Nauta, Studio Drift specialises in artistic collaborations with scientists, programmers and engineers, describing what they do as ’creating a dialogue between opposites: nature and technology, knowledge and intuition, science fiction and poetry.’ Their work is certainly poetic: previous projects include Flylight, which used hundreds of glass tubes to mimic a flock of birds in flight, and the extraordinary Fragile Future, which transformed hundreds of dandelion seedheads into individual lights.

The idea for Shylight, Gordijn and Nauta explain, is based on ’nyctinasty’ - the ability of some plants to react to light, for example by closing (or sometimes opening) their flowers at night. ’Most man-made objects have a static form,’ they say, ’while everything natural in this world including people, is subject to constant metamorphosis and adaptation to its surroundings. Shylight is the result of a question: How can an inanimate object mimic those changes that express character and emotions?’ It’s a question they’ve answered beautifully.

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