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Cloud nine

"Nimbus Thor" by Berndnaut Smilde (2014) paired with Raquel Allegra Shredded Spray-Dye Dress.

“Nimbus Thor” by Berndnaut Smilde (2014) paired with Raquel Allegra Shredded Spray-Dye Dress.


Thunderstorms have swept over the mountains every evening this week, streaking the sky in moisture and light, only to dissolve by daylight – an ephemeral squall made material by Dutch artist Berndnaut Smilde. Part smoke-and-mirrors, part alchemy, all art: carefully calibrating the atmospheric conditions within a space, Smilde rigs a suspended assemblage of stuff – two smoke machines held up by seat-belt brackets, ventilators taped to tripods, spotlights holding court nearby. He then flicks everything on. For a fleeting moment, a cumulus cloud hovers indoors while his camera snaps feverishly, fearing the inevitable collapse. If he’s lucky, he’s captured one of his surreal Nimbuses, a photography series he has sent around the world, now resting at the De Hallen exhibition space in Haarlem, the Netherlands as part of the group show, SKY! – in Dutch Art since 1850 (through September 7).

Smilde sees his work within the historical context of Dutch painting: light always looms large in Dutch landscapes, reflecting on the water, bouncing back into the clouds. His choice of spaces – coolly clean, mysterious – references the domestic scenes of Vermeer. “It’s almost as if,” Smilde has said, “a cloud from one painting floated into a Dutch interior.” Or onto a languid dress.

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