Many artists have been accused of having their head in the clouds.
For Dutch artist Berndnaut Smilde, the expression has an entirely different meaning.
Mainly a sculptor, Smilde creates clouds in indoor spaces and then uses photography as a means to capture their transient lives.
Using a combination of “frozen smoke” and moisture, the Dutch artist is able to create the clouds indoors that last just long enough to be photographed. The process leading up to the creation, however, can be labor intensive with shoot preparations lasting a few days.
“I’ll change the space for better light and elements I want to have in or left outside the framework I’ve chosen,” wrote Smilde via email. “There is some pressure to get the right one (photograph), but sometimes in the early stage of shooting I already know I’ve captured the image but we keep producing since you never know if you’ll get an even better one; it’s addictive.”
Smilde came across the idea of creating clouds while working in smaller-scale spaces for his art projects.
“Because you have total control over these spaces, it enables you to create an ideal situation,” wrote Smilde. “I’ve modeled the exhibition space after my ideal perception of a museum space and wanted to create an ominous situation.”
Smilde is interested in fleeting moments, the “in-between situations” that are open to interpretation. Since few people are able to view the physical life of one of Smilde’s clouds, using photography allows him to share his creations with a larger audience and opens up conversation about the paradox of the subject matter.
“The cloud brings duality because you can’t really grasp how to interpret the situation you are viewing. This is not so much about the shape of the cloud but rather by placing it out of its natural context; in this case the unnatural situation can be threatening.”
“People have always had strong metaphysical connections to clouds as they symbolize the ominous, fertility, luck and divinity,” wrote Smilde. “They also embody a cartoon-like visualization … in order to deal with situations we cannot fully grasp, we give them a meaning or shape just to ease ourselves.”
The reaction to Smilde’s clouds has been unexpected.
“I’ve had reactions from places I would never have imagined,” wrote Smilde. “From the music industry, fashion, science, and sometimes just from people who want to say ‘thank you.’ ”
Smilde’s work will be on view at the Land of Tomorrow gallery in Lexington, Ky., through March 26.
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