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A cloud floats inside an opulent rook with gold chandeliers.

Who Wouldn’t Want a Cloud of Their Very Own?


Dutch artist Berndnaut Smilde creates fleeting clouds in unexpected places.

Although it’s easy enough to forget, one essential feature of any cloud is its brevity. Perhaps that’s what inspired Dutch artist, Berndnaut Smilde (Groningen, 1978) to devise installations in tribute to the ephemeral: clouds that happen, indoors, for a few seconds —in museums, in mines, wineries, and even in cathedrals— and then they fade away. Nimbus is a collection of photographs of these meteorological ghosts which, in all their grace and levity, lasted but for a moment.

Each of Smilde’s small clouds (sculptures and poetic events) exists but for a period of about ten seconds —the time necessary for it to be photographed. The work materials are simple: smoke and water vapor. The results of these weather-made works (and the photographs that document them) depend to a large extent on a space’s temperature, which is ideally humid, as cold as possible, and with little air circulation.

To give life to these personal clouds —each unique and unrepeatable— Smilde uses a water sprayer to create a wall of moisture. A device produces an artificial fog and launches a good amount of it into the chosen space. The artist tries to see that his spectral creations are no bigger than two meters, so they won’t evaporate too quickly. Thus, they’re smaller, more concentrated, and texturized.

Smilde may do up to 100 tests before achieving the perfect cloud. And, of course, the location plays a dramatic role in the resulting image which is achieved with the help of photographers specializing in architecture. The artist likes that the spaces and their textures translate into details that contrast with the softness of the clouds.

But then Smilde’s clouds aren’t merely clouds. They’re also moments (disquieting moments), they’re symbols, and they’re pure metaphysics. As though they were ghosts, spells, or omens, these objects of but a few seconds, exist somewhere between the material and the ethereal, between the real and the surreal, the product of a feat both illusionist and supernatural.

Images: Berndnaut Smilde and Ronchini Gallery

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