This is one of the most intriguing displays of art in motion I’ve ever seen. Dutch photographer Berndnaudt Smilde creates nimbus clouds indoors and then quickly snaps pictures of them. Characterized by their low altitude and heavy volume, nimbus clouds are the type that produces precipitation. The clouds Smilde creates hang low, but fortunately, don’t bear any rain or snow.
Smiled began displaying his work in a small gallery in Arnheim, the Netherlands in 2010, but last year moved into much larger spaces, including a castle and a 15th century church.
“Some things you just want to question for yourself and see if they can be done,” says Smilde. “I imagined walking in a museum hall with just empty walls. There was nothing to see except for a rain cloud hanging around in the room.”
Perhaps it’s only natural that Smilde would be fascinated with clouds. Holland is beset with heavy cloud cover and frequent precipitation. Moreover, Dutch art masters such as Rembrandt van Rijn and Aelbert Cuyp, created some spectacular cloud-covered landscapes in their paintings.
“My grandparents had one with really threatening-looking clouds,” says Smilde. “I remember I was intrigued by the power of it. I couldn’t really grasp what it was, but there was something big, magical and dark about to happen in that painting. I wanted to create the idea of a typical Dutch rain cloud inside a space.”
That took some ingenuity and plenty of research. He encountered a substance called aerogel, also known as “frozen smoke,” which is 99.8% air. It’s the lightest solid material on Earth. Fascinated with its resemblance to clouds, Smilde began experimenting with it. Using various temperature controls, moisture and backlighting, he eventually achieved a true nimbus cloud effect. Since the cloud creations don’t last long, Smilde can’t display them except in photographs. He has only conducted three live demonstrations.
Like many visual artists, Smilde views his work through its transitory nature. “It’s there for a brief moment and the clouds fall apart.”
The Ronchini Gallery in London will open a month-long show of Smilde’s work on January 16. The SFAC Gallery in San Francisco will feature an exhibition of his photographs from February 15 through April 27, 2013.