Berndnaut Smilde, At Teresa's, Boulder, Colorado, US, 2015, digital c-type print, photo by Ascended Lens Visuals, courtesy the artist and Ronchini Gallery-2 copy
Berndnaut Smilde, At Teresa's, Boulder, Colorado, US, 2015, digital c-type print, photo by Ascended Lens Visuals, courtesy the artist and Ronchini Gallery-2
Berndnaut Smilde, At Teresa's, Boulder, Colorado, US, 2015, digital c-type print, photo by Ascended Lens Visuals, courtesy the artist and Ronchini Gallery-1
Berndnaut Smilde, At Teresa's, Boulder, Colorado, US, 2015, digital c-type print, photo by Ascended Lens Visuals, courtesy the artist and Ronchini Gallery-3
Berndnaut Smilde, At Teresa's, Boulder, Colorado, US, 2015, digital c-type print, photo by Ascended Lens Visuals, courtesy the artist and Ronchini Gallery-5
Cloud Sculptor Berndnaut Smilde
What defines a sculpture? Must it be solid? What about a gas? The ephemeral? A sculpture that only lasts a few seconds? Dutch artist Berndnaut Smilde is transcending the boundaries of sculpture by creating clouds out of thin air in stunning architectural settings.
The lifespan of Smilde’s sculptures is around 10 seconds. He stages them inside cathedrals, coal mines, palaces… while the breadth of his work extends beyond weaving clouds with little more than smoke and vapour–such as playing with natural occurrences like light spectrums–he has become known for his ongoing cloud series entitled, Nimbus.
The setting: the space most be cold. And damp with zero air circulation. Smilde sprays water vapour in the air and with perfect timing and temperature control, sends a puff from a smoke machine. In the collision of these two elemental states, a cloud is born.
The process takes hours to perfect, the result lasting only seconds before dissipating. A fleeting moment made infinite by the flash of a camera; caught just before it vanishes. Photography, architecture and science weave together beautifully to form this multi-matter and art-discipline-merging approach.
We spoke with Smilde to find out more about his magical art…
Berndnaut Smilde, At Teresa's, Boulder, Colorado, US, 2015, digital c-type print, photo by Ascended Lens Visuals, courtesy the artist and Ronchini Gallery
“What I am interested in duality for is the openness. There is still room for interpretation. As for the clouds: they are in a permanent inbetween state. They grow but fall apart at the same time. And the beauty for me is that you can never reach that permanent state or perfection as they fall short.” Berndnaut Smilde
CM: Would you say your work reveals your personal story?
You could say that. The work is a materialization of what I want to find out or see for myself. Many times this is a reflection on personal questions concerning my surroundings. What if such and such? And what does that mean? It reveals my way of looking and thinking. So yes.
CM: What attracts you to explore duality–specifically of the ephemeral–in your sculptures and what have you discovered about such dichotomies through your cloud series?
Duality might also be part of my human nature, as I am always balancing. For instance, when you walk into a hospital, the antiseptic air for me immediately assosiates with sickness and death but on the otherhand, you realize this anti-bacterial air is clean and that you are probably in the safest place to be. What I am interested in duality for is the openness. There is still room for interpretation. As for the clouds: they are in a permanent inbetween state. They grow but fall apart at the same time. And the beauty for me is that you can never reach that permanent state or perfection as they fall short. But for a moment you transport the idea of a cloud inside a space and the possible meaning. Such appearances can stand for the divine, good luck and hope, as well as a sign of misfortune and threat. I am interested in the connotations around these images. And as we cannot fully grasp nature, through time people have created all kinds of stories and myths around clouds and weather phenomenons.
Through these contrasts I became also interested in the idea of ‘antipodes’ and recently made an exhibition centered around our position as a viewer. Antipodes are per definition opposite, and apart 180 degrees, 12 hours, day and night, summer and winter.
CM: Can you tell us more about your other series? Your rainbow prisms/installations? And what would you say is the common thread in your work?
During a residency in Boulder, Colorado last year, I continued to work on an idea that I’ve wanted to test for some time; using a light house by placing a prism in front of the light to project a rainbow onto the surroundings. Although there is no such facilities at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, Boulder is known for its optical research, and this seemed to be the right place to investigate the possibility of breaking light at a large scale. I worked together with a scientist from NCAR (National Center for Atmospheric Research) on the development of a prototype prism, which we eventually tested at a private property with overwhelming results. The fascinating thing about a prism I find is that it allows us to see in a very direct way how we experience our surroundings; all the colours we perceive, we experience through refraction of light.
The appearance of a rainbow can be seen as a sign for perfection and promise, but what if it just hits your house or is presenting itself upside down?
The idea is imposing a natural appearance onto its surrounding like a temporary hack in the landscape. The artificial aspect, the interference on this location and the meaning we project onto it is something I want to discuss. As I mentioned earlier, I am interested in the cultural reverences around these images and phenomenons. They contain romantic ideas, the sublime, and represent both the ideal and perishable.
Most of my work questions these values and I guess that is the common thread in my work.
CM: Can you tell us more about this idea of “disappointment” you have referred to in your cloud series?
Well the first cloud I tested was in a miniature space and started from the idea of entering a classical museum hall where there was nothing to see except for a cloud hovering in the corner of the room.
As if it was going to rain you (like in cartoons). So initially I saw it as an image of disappointment and as a counterbalance of what we expect to find in a museum.
CM: Who do you collaborate with? What equipment do you use?
I always work with a professional photographer to shoot the clouds as I am not a photographer and don’t have the equipment either. Also their experience with lighting and shooting spaces can add something different to it.
For other projects I worked together with a scientist or a filmmaker. As an artist I find I sometimes bump against the boundaries of materials for visualizing a certain idea. Other people, like a scientist for instance, can think around that and can take it further.
Other than the machines I use for the clouds and prism, I am using all means necessary to create an idea and this is not as high-tech as you might think. Most of the work is very basic.
CM: How do you choose the architectural spaces you execute your clouds in?
You could say I am chasing representations of an ‘ideal’ space, and the cloud works are also a way for me to question this. The spaces function as a plinth for the work and provide a scenario. They are all used as exhibition spaces in some way and therefore relate to the artwork, and to the history and tradition of that location. For the future I am planning on a museum series as the ultimate representation of an ideal space.
CM: Can you tell us more about the photographic component of your sculptures? Would you say your work could exist without being captured in a photograph?
No, the photo is the work in this case. It represents the idea of a cloud in a space and this is best presented through an image.
In other situations I’ve worked with video, including a recent slow motion video installation. But then the focus is different, then you are witnessing a process of a cloud growing and falling apart without a specific loaction, so there is also no references to scale. In this case time matters.
CM: Which other artists might your work be in conversation with?
Pedro Cabrita Reis, Peter Erskine, Gregor Schneider, Matthew Day Jackson, Olafur Eliasson.
CM: Do you have an idea of what lies next? Beyond the clouds?
Weather is always hard to predict.
CM: Best advice for aspiring artists?
Think it was Lennard Cohen who said: “There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”
Berndnaut Smilde is internationally represented by Ronchini Gallery, London, www.ronchinigallery.com
Photo © Berndnaut Smilde
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