The skies over Rotterdam were illuminated by the glow of 300 drones on May 5th, 2020 in a work of performance art showing appreciation for frontline healthcare workers by Dutch artists DRIFT.

DRIFT partnered with art organizations Mothership and Stitching Droom en Daad for the performance. Formed from a swarm of 300 luminous drones programmed to simulate the behavior of starlings, Franchise Freedom instigates commentary on the relationships among humans, technology, nature, and the concept of freedom. The drones formed a beating red heart as part of this performance, symbolizing hope and togetherness. The flight took place at 10pm CET (4pm EST).

DRIFT’s co-founder, Ralph Nauta, reflected: “We’re flying Franchise Freedom for the healthcare workers and the people who are suffering from the virus. Unfortunately, art cannot be the solution, but it can create comfort during desperate times.”

Franchise Freedom was previously showcased at Art Basel Miami (2017), Burning Man (2018) and at the NASA grounds (2018), in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. The artwork was displayed above the hospital Erasmus MC in Rotterdam, as a tribute to all who work day and night for the freedom of others during this pandemic–and on an important date in Dutch history: Liberation Day (Bevrijdingsdag), which recognizes the end of the Netherlands’ occupation by Nazi Germany during World War II.

Eighty years ago, Rotterdam was bombed during World War II. Today, the city has rebuilt itself as a cultural hub and its hospital, Erasmus MC, has become the main center coordinating all COVID- 19 patients in the Netherlands.

World famous pianist Joep Beving who composed the music for Franchise Freedom, performed an original composition, Ab Ovo, in the hospital for staff as the drones were flown.

Jeroen Everaert, Founder and Director of Mothership, commented: “On this special Liberation Day, the entire world is trapped in the grip of the COVID-19 virus. Mothership wants to cooperate by giving this artwork as a sign of hope. We must commemorate, hope and hold on!”

On a typical year, Liberation Day would have been kicked off with a lecture, followed by fourteen music festivals in the Netherlands’ major cities. This year, Franchise Freedom is being shown to give citizens around the world a new way to feel united when the act of gathering is impossible.

“We have seen during our previous performances that when people see the artwork together, it unites them. They are all looking at the same thing, and feel a part of a collective experience,” commented DRIFT’s co-founder, Lonneke Gordijn.

The pattern formed by the drones prompts reflection on the concept of community, the role of the individual, and what can be learned from nature, as they mimic bird patterns. If the drones did not oscillate in synchronicity, the pattern would break and the work would dissolve.

Gordijn noted: “This time makes us realize that animals always live in uncertain times and must react immediately to changes in the environment. In this time of complete uncertainty and ambiguity where we can’t look ahead, we depend even more on how we react as a group.”

Franchise Freedom encourages all to weather this crisis by continuing to conduct a constructive dialogue together.