Arts and Humanities
12:00 pm
Sun February 17, 2013

Dutch Artist Explores Function and Dysfunction with Clouds, Landscapes

The first solo exhibit in the United States by Dutch installation artist Berndnaut Smilde is open at the Land of Tomorrow gallery on Broadway. 

Smilde is best known for his indoor Nimbus cloud installations. He creates an actual cloud inside a room – you could even call them archetypal clouds, perfectly formed. 

“I work with water and backlighting, so it has to be really cold in the space, really damp. I moisten the air and let go a bit of smoke, and that kind of bumps into the water, making it heavier and therefore you can hold it in position just for a bit,” says Smilde.

See Smilde walk through his cloud formation process with the BBC News earlier this year.

He photographs the cloud, and a large-scale print becomes part of the show. The cloud itself doesn't exist as a permanent installation -- it's too unstable, too ephemeral. But Smilde says the quick demise of the indoor cloud is part of the piece's process.

Working in clouds isn’t necessarily about nature for Smilde. He says it’s that friction between construction and deconstruction that guides his Nimbus works – something is being built that is also, at the same time, falling apart.

“In that kind of in-between state you’re not really sure of what you’re looking at," he says. "Often it’s open for interpretation and I kind of like that."

"I mean, people have been projecting ideas on clouds forever because it’s something you can not really grasp,” he adds.

Smilde's exhibit at Land of Tomorrow also includes large-scale idyllic American landscapes (think: vintage postcards) but the vistas are disrupted. On one, he's projected a rainbow -- a symbol of perfection -- but the rainbow is inverted. On others, he's blocked the views with clinical white tiles. 

"It’s about how you cannot really see either of them very well. It’s about this function and this dysfunction in this idyllic situation,” he says.

The room where Louisville's cloud was created isn't sitting empty for the run of the show. Smilde has constructed a ventilation shaft that converts the gallery air into antiseptic air that's pumped back out.

"On one hand it reminds you of hospitals, maybe, and sickness," he says. "On the other hand, it's clean air, free from bacteria, so this is really a safe space. Or is it not? And what is trying to protect me from? That duality is in a lot of my work."  

Smilde's exhibit at Land of Tomorrow (233 W. Broadway) opened Friday and runs through March 26.