This artist makes clouds appear in unexpected places

With the air as his canvas, a Dutch artist applies water vapor, smoke, lighting—and conjures clouds in surprising settings.

Berndnaut Smilde creates clouds to photograph in odd places—here, in China’s Shanghai Himalayas Museum—using smoke and mist machines. (He retouches the images so the tools aren’t seen.)
Photograph By Nina Chen

Berndnaut Smilde creates fluffy clouds in locations where nature never would place them. The Dutch artist’s sculptures last five seconds—10 seconds tops—before they disappear.

Smilde’s ongoing project, called “Nimbus,” explores the visual effects of clouds. A church or museum interior looks different behind a cloud, and an everyday cloud is peculiar in a castle or a canyon. Each scene is made more intense by lasting only moments.

The ingredients for Smilde’s clouds: just smoke and water vapor. He requires a cold and damp space with no air circulation, lest the clouds never form or fall straight to the ground. He mists an area with a spray bottle to put water vapor into the air. Then he turns on fog machines that spout tiny particles, and the vapor condenses around them.

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