February 16, 2016
The Weisman Art Museum at the University of Minnesota is currently hosting an exhibition of Jon Schueler’s cloud paintings he made in the fishing village of Mallaig, located in the Scottish Hebridean highlands. It’s a beautiful exhibit, and Schueler’s works are accompanied by early twentieth-century American photographer Edward Weston’s cloud studies, video/installation work by contemporary Boston-based artist Yu-Wen Wu, prints by famed nineteenth-century British landscape artist John Constable, among others.
Suspended above the hardwood floors, Caitlind r.c. Brown and Wayne Garrett’s steel-structured “Cloud” installation is pockmarked with thousands of incandescent light bulbs. Beaded cords dangle beneath the faux nebula, oscillating slowly in an imitation of hazy rain. Once pulled, the cords illuminate the 180 LED lights that dictate the mood of the sculpture – the stifling, thick opacity of smoldering overcast, wavy undulating underbelly of playful cumulus formations and more. ““The viewer is a performer, too,” said Caitlind r.c. Brown. “It’s about wonder and impromptu moments of collaboration as you stand under it and pull the chains. Often you’re not even aware of the aesthetic effects.”
Last year, French artist and photographer Charles Pétillion unveiled a cumulus cloud composed of 100,000 white balloons illuminated from the inside at London’s Covent Garden. The installation – “Heartbeat” – stretched the length of the South Hall ceiling of the Market Building in London, England. Pétillion has employed this strategy before, filling empty spaces with large, white balloons in what he calls “invasions.” The balloons are metaphors, trying to “change the way in which we see the things we live alongside each day without really noticing them,” and in the case of the Market Building, attempt to “connect its past with the present day to allow visitors to re-examine its role at the heart of London’s life.”
Where as the previously discussed installations invoke a sense of permanence and saturation of void, Dutch artist Berndnaut Smilde’s work is defined by ephemerality – a state of temporary being. Meticulous manipulation of temperature, humidity, and lighting allows Smilde to summon a small, perfect white cloud in the middle of a room before it vaporizes into haze; existing for a brief moment before disintegrating, the only documentation of its existence in the form of a photograph. This creates surreal landscapes by introducing the viewer to an object outside its natural context.
Stepping outside your own natural context can have tremendous effects. For me, exhibits characterized by mimicry give me perspective on how I interact with people, places and things on a daily basis. Sometimes, questioning your reality and way of doing things is necessary to perform better, whether at work or in life, and sometimes, a cloud is just a cloud.