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DRIFT, "Franchise Freedom"

DRIFT Presents Franchise Freedom in New York and Worldwide 

DRIFT’s Ralph Nauta Discusses Franchise Freedom

On Saturday, October 21st, the famous artist duo Ralph Nauta and Lonneke Gordijn, known as DRIFT, staged a mesmerizing performance of a lifetime Franchise Freedom, flying over 1000 drones over the Lake at Central Park, New York. The performance consisted of three aerial shows lasting 10 minutes each at 7 p.m., 8 p.m., and 9 p.m., respectively. These aerial shows were accompanied by Joep Beving’s music and co-produced with Lucas van Oostrum in collaboration with Nova Sky Stories. The show attracted millions of viewers in person and online.

Franchise Freedom performance by DRIFT in Central Park, New York, was on a truly grand scale. The show took more than five years to implement due to the ban on drones from New York City airspace in 2017 under the de Blasio administration. It wasn’t until late July this year, with the inauguration of Mayor Eric Adams, that a new drone use permitting process was unveiled. With the generous support of Nova, Therme, and Drone Stories, Franchise Freedom finally became a dream come true for DRIFT and the art world.

In this exclusive interview with Whitewall magazine, Ralph Nauta, Artist and Co-Founder of DRIFT, discusses the distinctive project Franchise Freedom and elaborates on DRIFT’s ground-breaking concept for aerial art exhibitions using drones.

Ralph Nauta and Lonneke Gordijn

Ralph Nauta and Lonneke Gordijn, courtesy of Craig Barritt, Getty Images for DRIFT and Therme US.

 WHITEWALL: Franchise Freedom is described as “a poetic illustration of humans striving to live autonomously within a society defined by rules and conventions”. How do you see this concept manifesting in the drone performance? What message are you aiming to convey?

RALPH NAUTA: The concept of “Franchise Freedom” materializes in our drone performance as a captivating reflection of the human struggle for autonomy within a society governed by rules and conventions. This manifestation unfolds through the nuanced dynamics of the drones’ movements, which epitomize the ongoing quest for personal space within the intricate framework of social structures.

As the entire swarm gracefully navigates a unique trajectory, the allocation of space within this aerial dance is inextricably linked to the number of individual drones present in the vicinity. What makes this choreography particularly intriguing is the drones’ ability to adapt continually, ensuring that every member of the swarm maintains an equitable share of the airspace. This can be interpreted as having an equal chance to evolve and flourish within the collective, regardless of one’s position.

The message we endeavour to convey is deeply rooted in the prospect of harmonious coexistence. It necessitates seeing our neighbours without judgment and mastering the art of genuine listening, unfettered by the imposition of our own viewpoints. True harmony can only be achieved when we move in concert with one another, abandoning the notion of working against ourselves. It’s in this unity that we can coexist gracefully, in synchronization with the natural rhythms of life. Nature, as an eternal source of wisdom, provides answers to guide us. We should learn from it to be part of it.  


DRIFT, “Franchise Freedom,” Central Park photo by Arjen van Eijk.

DRIFT Invited Viewers to Connect in Nature over Franchise Freedom

WW: What emotional or intellectual response do you hope the audience experiences when witnessing this performance? And what do you think is the broader impact of your drone performance on the art community?

RN: The human mind has a tremendous ability to process new information and, therefore, to adapt to unique circumstances. I’ve always seen this as both our most remarkable feature and potential downfall at the same time. On the one hand, we developed tools to live in any harsh conditions we come across, from deserts to outer space. On the other hand, we are easily jaded and in constant search for new challenges. This non-stop drive to experience the new has also pushed our toolset forward, without taking the time to really understand the dangers of humanity’s technological advancements. That being said, it is the novel and the urge for exploration that opens up our minds.

In today’s fast-paced world, the traditional “15 minutes of fame” has been reduced to a mere 15 seconds. To capture someone’s attention, initiate a meaningful conversation, or convey a compelling narrative, it’s imperative to introduce an element of surprise or disruption. In my view, the most effective approach to achieve this is by introducing something entirely unprecedented and unseen. Throughout our journey, we’ve recognized the necessity of avoiding shortcuts for success in this realm. Our method has consistently involved commencing with a blank canvas, focusing our efforts exclusively on projects where the required technology remains uncharted territory. This has led to a thrilling and dynamic journey that began in 2008 with the initial idea of integrating LEDs beneath drones and orchestrating swarm algorithms in the expansive canvas of the sky.

Our aim is to create a sense of collective connection through our work. We invite the audience to open their minds, encouraging them to embrace and experience everything nature has to offer. This is to make our audience realize that what we are missing is this relationship with nature. The connection with nature is the basis of our health is what we should be striving for. We are most inspired when we go hike in the mountains or visit the beach and can reconnect with what has created us. I witnessed around 100,000 people in Central Park coming together and sharing this moment of connection in silence. It’s all I could ask for. 

WW: Despite the drone patterns appearing random and evoking a sense of freedom, can you please shed light on the level of orchestration and the rules governing the behavior of the drones during the performance?

RN: The flight paths of the drones are generated through a collective behavior, mirroring the patterns found in natural swarms. Every individual in a swarm observes and adjusts its movements in response to its immediate neighbors. If one gets startled, the entire group responds, utilizing thousands of sensory input signals as opposed to just relying on a single set of eyes and ears. This creates a constant dialogue without them having to understand their entire surroundings or movement of the group. Creating a large group of individuals takes away the necessity to self-govern or to constantly protect yourself. This gives them the freedom to focus on more primal instincts. What I find most captivating is that when attacked the group collectively flies towards an enemy, so that the aggressor can’t pinpoint an individual. We find this beautiful social behavior fascinating.


DRIFT, “Franchise Freedom,” Central Park photo by Arjen van Eijk.

Franchise Freedom Saw DRIFT Collaborating with Other Creators

WW: How did DRIFT collaborate with Lucas van Oostrum and Nova Sky Stories to bring Franchise Freedom to life? What were their respective roles and contributions?

RN: Lucas was a pivotal figure, who early on shared our enthusiasm for this ambitious endeavor when many dismissed it as crazy. We met at the TU delft and both believed in this project, becoming partners to make this dream come true. Lucas linked us with Daniel Gurdan, who became our other partner and the technology developer. We embarked on our initial testing phase in collaboration with this team.

As fate would have it, Daniel’s company was later acquired by Intel, leading to an expansion of our collaboration to include this tech giant. The unveiling of our work took place at Miami Basel in 2017, thanks to the generous support of BMW and Faena Art.

After years of working with Intel, we met Kimbal Musk. Together with Kimbal, we persuaded Intel to make the monumental decision to divest its drone division, a remarkable achievement given that such a sale had occurred only once before in the company’s history. As a collective force, the four of us joined hands to establish Nova, a venture dedicated to advancing groundbreaking aerial media and pioneering the development of the world’s finest light drones. This endeavor charts a course towards a sustainable future for this technology.
Our enduring mission revolves around creating the safest and most exceptional platform for sharing narratives in the boundless sky. This journey continues to set the bar for innovation in this ever-evolving field, ensuring that Franchise Freedom remains the vanguard of this thrilling technological frontier.


DRIFT, “Franchise Freedom,” Central Park, courtesy of Craig Barritt, Getty Images for DRIFT and Therme US.

WW: How does the artistic significance of Franchise Freedom resonate within the broader context of contemporary art and technology?

RN: Franchise Freedom‘s artistic significance finds resonance in the broader context of contemporary art and technology through its dual role as a reflection of our times and a catalyst for innovation. Throughout the history of humanity, the value of art has been closely intertwined with its societal impact. Art has the power to define the era in which it is created, just as it can serve as a prescient warning akin to a message hidden within a compelling dystopian narrative like George Orwell’s “1984.” Conversely, it can also offer a timeless and contemplative experience, akin to Olafur Eliasson’s captivating “sun” installation in the Turbine Hall.

In this context, the essence of our artistic practice lies in our commitment to inventing novel forms of self-expression, be it through materials, techniques or technology. We view technology as a tool for artistic exploration, akin to how Rembrandt honed his use of paint. It’s within this dynamic relationship between art and technology that I find great value and excitement. Rather than retracing our steps, we believe in moving forward, continually pushing the boundaries of what is possible. Crafting the unknown is a formidable challenge, and the process of creating pieces that not only move but endure is even more demanding.

The arduous journey becomes immensely rewarding when we witness the unbridled joy and wonder in a young child with an open mind, as they smile and laugh in the presence of our art. We know that these moments will become indelible memories for them, carrying the inspiration forward throughout their lives. Through Franchise Freedom, we aspire to encourage artists to think differently about the possibilities of art and technology, urging them to hold onto their unwavering drive to express their unique ideas in ever evolving and inventive ways. It is in the convergence of art, technology, and the unquenchable human spirit that the artistic significance of Franchise Freedom truly comes to life, inspiring a profound appreciation for both the present and the future of creative expression.

It’s important that our message is a positive one – a message of hope, connection and growth. As we’ve learned from the rich world of science fiction and history, the visions of the past can indeed become the future as we continually learn, study and reinterpret the world around us. It’s a misconception to think that great works of sci-fi are merely products of chance; similarly, contemporary art often serves as a platform for others to study, emulate and execute. Our flight of Franchise Freedom over Central Park, following in the footsteps of two of my heroes, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, was akin to a dream come true. The efforts of the Mayor of New York Eric Adams in changing the legislature to allow this show to take place cannot go unmentioned! We hope our journey in bringing this performance to life becomes a narrative of unwavering persistence and focus, which leads the way for other public works of art.

WW: Could you tell us about your ongoing and upcoming projects related to your exploration of the intersection between art, nature and technology?

RN: We will show you our next work, rather than talk about it…


DRIFT, “Franchise Freedom,” Central Park photo by Arjen van Eijk.



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Go inside the worlds
of Art, Fashion, Design,
and Lifestyle.