Interview by Richard Malinsky, Arts Editor
Berndnaut Smilde was born in 1978 in Groningen, The Netherlands. He currently lives and works in Amsterdam. Smilde holds an MA from the Frank Mohr Institute, Groningen. Selected exhibtions include: Saatchi Gallery, London (2017); RWA Bristol, (2017); Museum Kranenburgh, (2016); LIAN Contemporary Art Space, Shanghai (solo) (2015); FotoMuseum, Antwerp, (2015); Ronchini Gallery, London (solo) (2014); Bonnefantenmuseum, Maastricht, (solo) (2013). Awards include a start stipend from The Netherlands Foundation for Visual Arts, Design and Architecture, the FORM Artists’ Residency, Perth and Kings County Hospital, New York.
Berndnaut Smilde’s work (appearing in WTP Vol. V #6) consists of installations, sculptures, and photos. Using his daily surroundings and spaces as motives, Smilde is interested in the temporal nature of construction and deconstruction. His work refers to both the physical state of a building as well as a moment of revelation that depicts either hope or fragility. Smilde analyzes spaces and their appearance and takes them apart to investigate their unique details and features. His artistic point of view often centers on duality. His works question: inside and outside, temporality, size, the function of materials and architectural elements.
Malinsky: You’ve worked in quite a variety of mediums: from the carefully engineered of massive installations works such as “Conditioner” and “Carcass Divided,” to the subtler, smaller-scaled plaster sculptures of “Caravan Compilation” and “When all the World was Green.” And now your ingenious Nimbus series, actual cloud formations. How did you come to work across such a wide spectrum?
Smilde: I use all means necessary to create an idea. As interests shift, the work will change as well but the base still is a reflection to spaces and how we perceive them.
Malinsky: Prior to the Nimbus series are your “photomurals,” photographic installations such as “Gamut” and “Unflattened.” How did you transition into photography, and as installation?
Smilde: The installations co-exist.
As the clouds are fleeting, photography for me is the best way to present the work. I am not so 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.
Malinsky: Your present series, Nimbus, finally culminates in stunning imagery—was this final photographic effect the initial impetus behind this “installation”; if you even consider the ephemeral of cloud formations to fall into this category?
Smilde: Initially I wanted to exhibit a cloud and wanted to see for myself if it could be done. It is important that the cloud actually took place in that space. The photo is a remembrance of something that is not there anymore.
Malinsky: How did the concept for the Nimbus series begin?
Smilde: The idea started when I was working in a miniature space called Probe. The first Nimbus I made was in a small-scale space for art projects called Probe, a project of artist collective Suze May Sho. Probe is an exhibition space with walls no higher than 1,10m and an area of six cubic meters. Its small and practical dimensions enable artists to create works on a scale that are unthinkable in real life. I wanted to see if it would be possible to exhibit a raincloud.
Because you have total control over the space it enables you to create an ideal situation. This is one of the reasons I think a model can stand for an idea.
I transformed the exhibition space into my ideal perception of a museum hall in which I wanted to present an ominous situation.
Malinsky: What technical obstacles had to be overcome to bring the “clouds” into reality?
Smilde: The initial problem was how to materialize them. When researching on how to make clouds I also found out about some really interesting materials such as Aerogel. Eventually I simply started experimenting with smoke because of the visual resemblance. By trying, testing with temperature and moisture, I got the hang of it. It’s not a high-tech process at all. I can control the space, but the clouds will be different every time. It always takes a while to get them where I want to go.
Malinsky: What role for you does the photographer play beyond snapping the photo?
Smilde: On different locations I work with local photographers. They all have their personal ways of visualizing a space, whether it is ideas for lighting, eyes for architectural details or their equipment. It important for me to materialize a space in a photograph.
Malinsky: What was one of your very earliest projects in your career—one that perhaps paved the way for the aesthetic you pursue now in your work?
Smilde: I think that was still in art school where my paintings started to evolve into installation settings, as I wanted to relate to the architectural surrounding and human size in my work.
Malinsky: What are you working on now?
Smilde: I am working on architectural molds in combination with a video installation.
Malinsky: How do you see your work evolving?
Smilde: My interest in ephemeral versus tangible still triggers me in making new relations, visually as well as conceptually. I will keep on researching the physical (de)construction of materials, light, space, the experience, and the atmosphere in relation to the architectural environment.
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