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The Armory Show opened to the public yesterday in New York, and is on view through the weekend. There, in the back left corner of Pier 94, just next to the café, is Dutch artist Berndnaut Smilde’s live cloud installation where every hour or so, a real cloud forms in the middle of a theatrical set, and then floats away until it ultimately disappears.
The project, “Breaking the Fourth Wall,” is part of an ongoing series by the artist entitled “Nimbus,” which was recognized as one of the top 10 inventions of 2012 by TIME Magazine. In past iterations, Smilde has created clouds in museums, abandoned spaces, and chapels—playing with people’s perception of space and light, indoor and outdoor. Each time he hires a photographer to capture the perfect cloud. At The Armory Show, it will be the visitors who get to capture the work on their phones.
Fair attendees will also be able to purchase a photo from the “Nimbus” series, Nimbus Power Station (2017), through Smilde’s gallery, Ronchini Gallery using Bitcoin. Gallerist Lorenzo Ronchini is the first to accept Bitcoin as payment in the fair’s history, joining a growing trend in the art world (like Paddle8’s recent announcement of allowing cryptocurrency). “The gallery believes in the future,” said Ronchini at The Armory Show’s VIP preview on Wednesday. “Even though there is a lot of volatility around cryptocurrency, I want to take the risk…Things are changing and we want to be part of that.”
Whitewall spoke with Smilde at the fair about creating live clouds.
WHITEWALL: Can you tell us about the set you created in which the live clouds will form throughout the course of the fair?
BERNDNAUT SMILDE: We built part of a room as a set. I liked the idea of creating a set within space. These are automatically generated clouds on a random time. Therefore, I’m not performing myself; it’s out of my hands. I like the idea of where the set ends, a space ends, and where a new space begins. The cloud will hover here within the set, or move forward, to the side, or up. It lasts for a couple of seconds, depending on the draft here.
WW: While the clouds are fleeting, they live on in your work as photographs. Can you tell us about how you capture the clouds?
BS: I need about a day to set up and test everything. Then I bring in a photographer. It’s a lot of adjustments as the light keeps changing and the atmosphere in the space changes. It’s about finding the right cloud. We take hundreds of photos. I have an idea of where I want it and how big it can be but you can’t control things like the light and how it reflects.
The clouds function almost like opposite of what a space is—structure and order. The cloud is a piece of disorder in there.
WW: For visitors at the fair who miss the cloud forming, you can still see some moisture on the floor of the set…
BS: I like those kind of traces.
WW: How do you see this work in the context of the fair?
BS: I like the idea because a booth is also like a temporary exhibition space. It’s not a perfect space. Everybody is showing the best they can, but the booths are not your own gallery. That’s why I wanted to have this free standing, so it is a space within the space.
WW: What do you think of the fact that people can buy your work with Bitcoin?
BS: I like the idea. Bitcoin is fluctuating just like the work is so it kind of fits.