Up in the clouds

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Amsterdam-based Dutch artist, Berndnaut Smilde has become quickly well-known in the art world for his Nimbus series of multi-disciplinary installations where using a smoke machine, and carefully adjusting the temperature and humidity, he creates “clouds” in a variety of interior environments,  which he then photographs. The results of these ephemeral experiments have been exhibited widely in The Netherlands, Toronto, Taipei, Istanbul, Dublin, Paris, London and San Francisco.

Smilde first showed in the USA at Land of Tomorrow in Louisville, Kentucky, and also guest curated a show at the Bonnefantenmuseum in Maastricht where he exhibited his personal choice of works from the collection. Smilde’s work can be found both in the Saatchi Museum and the Smithsonian collections among others.

His Nimbus series was recognised by TIME Magazine as one of the Top Ten Inventions of 2012 and was covered by the BBC and Reuters. He created works that featured Karl Lagerfeld, Donatella Versace, Dolce & Gabbana and Alber Elbaz for the Harper’s Bazaar U.S. September 2013 issue. He received his BA in 2001 from the Minerva Academy and his MA in 2005 from the Frank Mohr Institute, both in The Netherlands. Glass talks to him about his work and life

How did it all start? Where did the series come from?
I started about 10 years ago, and I’ve always reacted to spaces. The history of the space. Photography started to be a part of what I do through the clouds in rooms, because photography was the only way I could capture the artwork. Normally I make sculptures in the clouds can be seen as very temporary sculptures that only last for a couple of seconds. So photography was the easiest way to extend the life of the sculpture, but also the most essential, as for me it is important that the image of the cloud in that space exists. The idea and what people project onto the image is the what the work is, not the creation of the cloud.

I don’t know where the inspiration comes from for the series. I’ve always been a creator, looking for visual solutions for many different things. I love craft and architecture in a space, I personally find that very special. I think that’s where it originates, the cloud itself is more the idea to have a cloud in a exhibition space, to be able to present it.

In the beginning I thought it would be beautiful to have an empty museum space, with no work hanging on the walls, just a cloud hovering in the corner, nearly an image of disapointment, that it could actually rain there. It comes from thinking of the fleeting aspect that people have projected on clouds for hundreds of years. The untouchable cloud.

Would you want to have a permanent cloud in an exhibition?
I would love to experience it if it was possible, but it isn’t neccesary. The fleeting aspect is very beautiful, by seeing a photograph of the cloud in an exhibition you also know it is gone from that space. It’s existed in the space, but the short time it existed questions it more.

Your work is widely well-known, when did it all change for you?
That’s all rather recent. The internet has played a large role in that. The first cloud, I made in 2010 in a manquette. Then I moved on to work in real rooms, and that work appeared on a blog. The internet started to work and, it spread quickly around the world. I imagine it’s a universal image and that was picked up by many. What interested me was that there was a lot of interest in the images outside of art blogs, for example science and fashion, everyone could identify with it.

Is it your goal to disorientate the viewer?  To think it’s fake or impossible?
That isn’t it, but I do what them to ask themselves,”Whats going on here?” To put a cloud in a space, something which isn’t possible, you will look at it differently and it gives it a different meaning. The fact it is happening in a room is already quite threatening, what is strange is usually threatening and not understood. My work is often a battle between the construction and destruction, but also to make people question what they are looking at and what it means.

What is the purpose of art?
For me, it’s always a suggestion where you ask something…what if? You start to interpret that, and what it means to you. That for me is the most important in art, that’s how I work. It doesn’t have to be about beauty, beauty has always been for me about the ideal. The search for an ideal that you may never create. But at the same time an ideal is also bound to the accesable and temporary, which are aspects that do come into play. It’s a suggestion of how you can look at a situation.

What is your next project?
I’m busy with a commission for a company to exhibit in April, as well as an exhibition at the Ronchini Gallery in April. I may be working with a director in Los Angelos on a feature film, but that’s very preliminary. I’m also working with an artist collective in Groningen (Netherlands) and coaching.

by Justin van Vliet

Berndnaut Smilde: Antipode, is at Ronchini Gallery,  from 11 April – 14 June, 2014

Ronchini Gallery, 22 Dering Street, Mayfair London W1S 1AN+44 (0)20 7629 9188
info@ronchinigallery.com,

About The Author

Justin van Vliet

Chief Glass Online photographer

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