When clouds come floating into my life, they no longer carry rain or usher storm, but they add color to my sunset sky. — Rabindranath Tagore
One April 2007 morning, in a spacious Washington, DC studio, I woke up and decided I was going to move to New York. A week later, I found myself in an apartment on the east side of Manhattan, where I arose this morning and will, too, tomorrow — and the day after that, but maybe not the day after that.
In the six short years that I have lived here, I have had three roommates of completely disparate temperaments and lent sugar to countless rotations of neighbors. It seems in New York City that everyone is literally on the move — yet somehow, to me, it still manages to feel like “home.” I have always found this fact puzzling, but the other day, when an old friend introduced me to Berndnaut Smilde, my ever-nagging urge to solve this riddle was dispelled.
Berndnaut Smilde can turn a clear sky cloudy — and he can do it all indoors. With the help of a smoke machine, a touch of moisture, and a healthy dose of dramatic lighting, Smilde transforms sixteenth-century chapels and contemporary galleries into meteorological wonders. Playing upon the themes of duality and temporality, Smilde injects movement into otherwise abandoned interiors, capturing his clouds’ tenuous existence forever on film just an instant before they collapse.
“I’m interested in the ephemeral. It’s there for a brief moment and then the cloud falls apart. The work only exists as a photograph. It’s about the potential of the idea, but in the end it will never function.”
Berndnaut Smilde’s work is nothing short of breathtaking, but the versatility of its intention supersedes its beauty. For me, Smilde’s nimbus concept is a reminder of what my time in New York City has taught me — to not only accept but to also expect the sensations of impermanent states of being.
Like the dispersion of clouds across a sunset horizon, minutes and months can quickly fade into memories. It is comforting to know we can recreate some precious moments if we really want to — even if just for an instant — even in environments where we originally did not experience them.