THE PORTAL, 2016
“We want to encourage people to see things that they no longer notice; to reach a kind of unconscious recognition that everyone instinctively feels and understands, yet have lost the time for.” Ralph Nauta
Framed by towering materials and piles of rubble, the empty silo stands at the foot of the dock, protruding into the air. Muffled light penetrates the fogged up windows. Level for level, the light-body rises to the sixth floor, and from there, in smooth momentum, descends again to the ground floor. Trembling, it pauses here for a few seconds, and then the cycle resumes. For their contribution to Lichtparcours, Lonneke Gordijn and Ralph Nauta of the artist collective Studio Drift undertook an in-depth exploration of the architectural structure and history of a granary, abandoned for many years, in the port area of Braunschweig-Veltenhof. The artists immersed themselves in the theme of the movement of the grain that was once transferred through the different floors and was cleaned, portioned out, and packed there, responded with a light sculpture that moves vertically through the building’s shafts, forming the core of their spatial installation.
This installation includes a modified version of their work, Shylight, which embraces the natural phenomena of photonasty and thermonasty - the light and temperature-dependent opening and closing of petals, translated into a multiphase choreography of unfolding and refolding silk fabric. The vertical lengthening and shortening of Shylight, recalls another related phenomenon – phototropism, the movement, and growth of plants toward sunlight - where »plant« and »sun« merge into a composite entity, a self-contained system.
In the reciprocity of light, movement, and material, biological processes are thus interpreted as form-generating forces. A concise translation of the natural life cycle is revealed in the potentially infinite sequence of movements of the kinetic light body. In its performative appeal, the unfolding and again contracting fabric also recalls the fluttering of the countless pigeons that occupy the old granary, having found there a »refuge from humans.
The repeatedly advancing and retreating lightbody is filmed by a camera positioned on the floor and projected onto the façade of the building. It creates the illusion of a tunnel-like opening in the outer wall, establishing references to the emergence of eighteenth-century peep-boxes. Biblical scenes but also depictions of urban environments and nature entice the visitor with an almost magical glimpse into another world. The title of the work – The Portal – recalls the customary meaning of »portal« as an architectural element, such as a boundary between a stage and an auditorium in a theater. However, the image that it first and foremost embraces is that of a zone of transition between different dimensions of space and levels of reality. What happens inside the building appears embedded in the façade of the granary, contradicting the simple differentiation of inner and outer space. Moreover, physically existent, projected, and historical fields interlock with the perpetually reconstituting and partly visually restricted space encircling the work, resulting in a conglomerate of overlapping spatial references. In this way, the light-body hidden inside invites us to discover continually new perspectives through the windows or built-in glass façade. In the play with different dimensions and viewer distances, the seduction of the proactive visitor is intended.
Along with Shylight, the projection of the individual levels of the granary allows us to sense the wood paneling and pipes, indicating the historical functions of the different sections of the building. We are granted a glimpse into an industrial interior, which in its construction, is not up-to-date anymore and is no longer profitable to run. Hence, Studio Drifts’ installation can be read as the documentation of a building that will be demolished after the exhibition and replaced by a more efficient storage facility. In the intensive study of the place of presentation and the distinctive combination of nature, technology, and humanity, Studio Drifts’ The Portal, fits into a series of related previous projects, which choose biological phenomena as a starting point for the artistic practice. In this way, the growth and ripening of plants are reflected in the elaborately produced Fragile Futures. Further, for the Venice Biennale 2015, Gordijn and Nauta realized another kinetic light installation: In 20 Steps. Here, glass tubes hanging from the ceiling imitated the flapping wings of birds, alluding to the human »dream of flying.