Berndnaut Smilde makes art out of thin air. His cloud pieces live just long enough to be photographed before disappearing and it’s these photographs that draw us in – because they are indoors. Through the eye of a camera they become permanent fixtures in rooms, and it’s this photographed translation that comes through in much of Smilde’s work as he deals with the transience of light and objects in space.
Emaho : What drew you to creating cloud installations?
There something you cannot grasp about clouds that I find interesting. People have always had a strong metaphysical connection with clouds and throughout history they have created myths and meanings around them.
Emaho : The photographs of your clouds bring to mind the transience of 16th century vanitas – the Dutch tradition of still life paintings. Were you thinking of still life composition in your preparation for “Nimbus”?
Many of my works question ideal and transient situations, but when I think of paintings I tend to see the clouds rather as an ‘escaped’ element from a classical landscape painting.
I am a great fan of old seascape paintings with their impressive skies.
Unflattened, 2012 © Tim Furnish
Emaho : The clouds themselves only last for a short period of time. How does temporality play into the way you present your work? Is there a live element?
For me a photograph is the best way to present the work. I am not no much interested in the process of making. The work is really about the idea of a cloud inside a space and what people project on it. This is best represented by an image. The physical aspect is important but the work in the end only exists as a photograph. The photo functions as a document of something that happened on a specific location and is now gone.
Emaho : The space the cloud inhabits transforms the way we read the cloud. One floats amongst chandeliers in a decadent room, another is in an industrial space, and all of them are empty. What is your intention?
Most spaces are empty and are used as exhibition spaces. This way I try to keep a relation to the artwork itself and the history of that location. The spaces, you could say, function as a plinth for the work. It also asks a question: can a sculpture be composed of just exposed air.
In my recent works, the architecture as a representation of an ideal space is getting more important. The Green Room in San Francisco is an American interpretation of the mirror room in the castle of Versailles.
Nimbus D’Aspremont, 2012 © Cassander Eeftinck Schattenkerk
Emaho : Your installation “Unflattened” has many dimensions, with changes based on where you install. Is there an ideal location for this piece?
The ‘Unflattened’ piece is about the suggestion of a rainbow as a sign of perfection and promise. But by projecting the rainbow upside down on an idealistic landscape you start questioning these values again. I like it when this idea continues outside the photomural onto the actual exhibition space. It places it in time. Therefore an ideal surrounding should have some architectural elements on which the rainbow can continue.
Emaho : Much of your work has a playful element. I’m curious about “Until Askeaton has streetview” and the doubling of the barn. What prompted this idea?
In 2009, I participated in a residency in Askeaton, one of Ireland’s oldest communities, and discovered that in the 1840s many of the town’s residents immigrated to Wisconsin and set up a new town Askeaton. The first image of Askeaton, WI, on Google Street View was of a lone red barn by the side of a road, while Askeaton, Ireland, had not been captured by Google for Street View yet. I was intrigued by the idea that lay between the original town and the duplicate.
Until Askeaton has Streetview, 2009
I constructed a copy of the façade of the red barn in Askeaton, WI, and placed this ‘prop’ along the main road in Askeaton, Ireland. I was hoping that if the Google Photocar would come by to capture the original town, this image would be picked up and the Street View of both towns would then depict the same barn.
In 2012, Google completed this work by depicting the barn façade in Askeaton, Ireland, on Street View.
Emaho : Do you have any plans for future projects that you wouldn’t mind sharing with us?
I am preparing for an exhibition, going to work on a cloud project with a magazine, and possibly collaborating on a film.
Art & Culture Interviewed by Hilary Devaney