Studio Drift’s handwoven kinetic sculpture ‘Ego’ embodies the perspectives of a human

In collaboration with opera director Monique Wagemakers, the Netherlands-based Studio Drift creates a stunning visual installation titled Ego for Dutch opera L’Orfeo.

by Shraddha Nair Published on : Jun 04, 2020

They say that nothing is original anymore and that everything has been done before. While this statement might hold some truth, the process of creation never stops. People continue to find exciting and authentic ways of making. One philosophy, which encourages an interdisciplinary practice in order to create new experiences, is encapsulated elegantly by the German word ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’. The term was popularised by Wilhelm Richard Wagner, a 19th century German composer and theatre director, known well amongst opera-lovers. At its essence, ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ translates loosely to ‘a total work of art’. Wagner sought to revive opera from the state it was in and revive the art form back to the art it was meant to be. Here, ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ implied the integration of music and drama in opera performance. This endeavour led Wagner to make use of light, set design, costume, music and acting into one immersive audiovisual experience.

  • Made from Japanese fluorocarbon and eight motors, ‘Ego’ represents the fluidity of human nature | L’Orfeo | Studio Drift | STIRworld
    Made from Japanese fluorocarbon and eight motors, Ego represents the fluidity of human nature Image Credit: Courtesy of Marco Borgrevve
  • Adopting Wagner’s ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ philosophy takes L’Orfeo to new heights | L’Orfeo | Studio Drift | STIRworld
    Adopting Wagner’s ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ philosophy takes L’Orfeo to new heights Image Credit: Courtesy of Marco Borgrevve

Today, in the 21st century, the philosophy of aesthetics continues to find its place in performance. In 2018, opera director Monique Wagemakers decided to adopt ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ in her approach to the rendition of the oldest opera still performed to this day - L’Orfeo (1607) by Claudio Monteverdi. This directorial decision led to Wagemakers and her choreographer Nanine Linning collaborating with Studio Drift’s Lonneke Gordijn to re-think the way in which this opera would be experienced. Gordijn says, “As it was my first time working for an opera production, everything was new for me, so I had to adapt quickly to this new setting and learn how to incorporate my practice into it. It was really a challenging project, but in the end, it was extremely rewarding to see EGO performing on stage along the singers and dancers, and to witness the audience appreciation of it. It was a delight to be introduced to this new world and I feel inspired to explore in more depth how we can bring and audience through an emotional journey with artworks outside of the theatre or gallery space.”

Studio Drift was founded by Lonneke Gordijn and Ralph Nauta in 2007. Today, they are over 60 people strong, each from a range of creative backgrounds enabling them to develop experiential installations, sculptures and performances. While they are based in The Netherlands, their work has been showcased all over the world in places like Pace Gallery, Victoria & Albert Museum, Biennale di Venezia and more.

  • Studio Drift was founded in 2007 by two artists, and today the team is over 60 people strong | L’Orfeo | Studio Drift | STIRworld
    Studio Drift was founded in 2007 by two artists, and today the team is over 60 people strong Image Credit: Courtesy of Marco Borgrevve
  • L’Orfeo is the Greek tale of Orpheus’s journey to Hades | L’Orfeo | Studio Drift | STIRworld
    L’Orfeo is the Greek tale of Orpheus’s journey to Hades Image Credit: Courtesy of Marco Borgrevve

L’Orfeo is a timeless tale from Greek mythology, which tells the story of Orpheus and his journey to Hades in a vain attempt to bring his dead bride Eurydice back to life. The story talks of love, life, struggle and strife and it’s the layered narrative which has inspired painters, musicians, writers and other artists over the years. In Wagemaker’s version, she incorporates a contemporary installation created by Studio Drift, which is a block made entirely of 16km of hair thin nylon thread. In the performance, the installation is indicative of Orpheus’s innermost thoughts and performs as an entity of its own. The dynamic sculptural piece offers an entirely new point of view as Gordijn explains, “Usually the audience walks around the work of art, now the public sits still. A complete different way of interaction”.

01 mins watch ‘Ego’ creates a breathtaking visual with its incredible design | L’Orfeo | Studio Drift | STIRworld
‘Ego’ creates a breathtaking visual with its incredible design Video Credit: Courtesy of Marco Borgrevve

The installation, aptly titled Ego, is powered by eight motors on the corners of the block. The installation can appear extremely rigid or fluid, a reference to human behaviour. The artwork was designed to be able to transform in a flexible manner in order to portray a range of emotions. The premiere of the show took place on January 25, 2020, and was performed at a number of venues through February.

01 mins watch Wagner encouraged the exteriorisation of the actor’s inner story, as seen in Studio Drift’s installation | L’Orfeo | Studio Drift | STIRworld
Wagner encouraged the exteriorisation of the actor’s inner story, as seen in Studio Drift’s installation Video Credit: Courtesy of Marco Borgrevve

This creatively directed opera brings to light the concept of ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ as a practice relevant not only in opera but in other creative fields as well. While there might be little scope to create something entirely new, ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ encourages the artist to shift perspective, add an unexpected element and break the rules of traditional art experiences.

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About Author

Shraddha Nair

Shraddha Nair

Nair is a writer and curator based in Bengaluru, India. Her curatorial practice is a method by which she negotiates with and navigates the complexities of human behaviour, an interest which flows into her writing as well. She believes that art and collective experience hold immense capacity in the cultivation and development of action and emotion.

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