The impossibility of a cloud

If there’s one thing that’s certain about clouds, it’s that they’re hard to grab hold of. Harder still to wrestle into a box. But that’s exactly what internationally renowned Argentine artist Leandro Erlich seems to do.

Erlich is a master of illusions. His works include double-exposure photographs that seem to depict rooms full of the walking dead. A swimming pool you can walk through without getting wet, though it seems you’re submerged when viewed from above. And Bâtiment (2004), a mirrored reflection that allows you to play at hanging on for dear life to the side of an urban apartment building.

Buildings, in fact, are a constant motif in the Buenos Aires-born artist’s work. While other artists paint on walls, in Erlich’s large public works he literally puts buildings in motion: there are buildings torn up by their roots, buildings that melt into (or emerge from) the pavement, and buildings that hang suspended in the air, supported only by a mover’s lift.

Considering this love for sending steel and concrete buildings sailing through the sky, it may be only fitting that his other installations bring that most sky-bound object – a cloud – back down to earth.

In The Cloud (2021), Erlich created a series of aquarium-sized glass boxes that seem to hold fluffy white clouds suspended inside. The installations are made of fixed elements – digital ceramic ink, layered glass and LED lights – but magically, something about them seems to move. Or wants to.

Maybe it’s the illusionary three-dimensionality: these clouds have depth, and it feels like your hand could sink right in. But maybe it’s our brain that performs the trick. As any cloudspotting child knows, clouds never stay still for very long, and whatever animal, face, or geography a cloud reveals in one moment may be utterly transformed in the next.

As such, in Erlich’s encaged clouds it’s easy to imagine this same potential energy, this same potential movement towards new shapes and forms and identities.

From photography to public works to site specific installations, Erlich’s work continues to change and evolve. And it’s fascinating to think that by accomplishing the impossibility of putting a cloud in a box, he may be reflecting back to us the endless possibility that lives in us all. (Or, as you might call it, the wisdom of the cloud.)