I would like to take you to a land where brightly-colored, beautiful/odd (sometimes even phallic-shaped) creatures come alive, prance and dance around, and make a lot of strange noises while doing so.
Guess where we’re going folks? That’s right! To the very much charted territory of a gay artist many know and love, Nick Cave.
BUT FIRST! Let’s get one thing straight (or maybe not-so-much):
The Nick Cave we’re talking about here is
Got it? Kaygreat. Now that we’ve got that settled…
Let’s get started on learnin’ about this fabulous artist and his flamboyant works, better known as “soundsuits” and a bit about his other art too.
NICK CAVE (born in US, 1959; lives and works in Chicago, IL)
“Sound doesn’t always have to be heard. Sound can also be created by how a pattern is set up on a surface- how it moves across the surface, how light reflects the surface [and] can generate a feeling. Sound can also be through feeling, through color, through texture.” - Nick Cave
Nick Cave seems to be an incredibly popular artist these days in contemporary art, but he’s actually been in the art game for quite some time- creating work that has been shown in galleries and museums since 1999. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the artist’s work, Cave is best known for his bright and colorful “soundsuits”, which are amazingly decorative creations that cover one’s entire body. Cave’s soundsuits are created by his know-how in both dance and textiles, which formed during his undergrad years when Cave learned how to sew and fell in love with textiles at the Kansas City Art Institute. While there, he also studied dance at an Alivn Ailey program.
Along with being an art professor of the fashion department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Cave travels to other cities and gathers dancers from the community to dress up in soundsuits to engage in collective, public performances. Along with his creations being shown at multiple galleries and museums, they are also featured in countless fashion magazines…including Vogue. As if all of this weren’t enough, Cave has commodified his soundsuits by selling a whole line of soundsuit-inspired products from the “soundsuitshop”, where you can buy anything from t-shirts to magnets to scarves to wrapping paper. How much does an actual soundsuit cost? Trust me, you don’t want to know.
Ultimately, these creations lead a bit of a double life. In one way, they can act as sculptures on pedestals:
But they completely come to life when worn as a full-on suit of sorts:
Nick Cave originally formed the idea of the Soundsuit unintentionally. Shortly after the infamous Rodney King beating, Cave became increasingly aware of the racial tensions that are still very much a part of America today (we still see it…just look at what happened to Trayvon Martin) and how the status of a black man stacks up on this country’s totem pole. While reflecting on this matter during a stroll in Chicago’s Grant Park, Cave began to collect sticks that seemed to be just as discarded as he felt by his own society. Once he got back to his studio, he cut all of the sticks into a uniform 3” in length, drilled holes in them, and started sewing them onto fabric. When finished, Cave thought of the object as nothing more than a sculpture, that is, until he tried it on for size…LITERALLY:
Once inside the suit, the artist began to move around and realized that he felt protected from the outside world. He also noticed that the rustling of the sticks made interesting noises every time he moved. Hence the name “Soundsuit”.
Cave still uses natural materials for his soundsuits at times, but today many are comprised of various thrift store finds which are then patchworked together, sometimes also including (but not limited to) dyed human hair, dryer lint, and even old socks that had once belonged to the artist. By collecting these forgotten and abandoned items and fusing them together in different, wearable forms, Cave ultimately manifests other kinds of beings. Beings that “… feel like they belong in a part of this world, but [we] don’t know where their place is.”
The first and only time I’ve had the privilege of being able to view some of Nick Cave’s soundsuits in person, they were on display, standing stagnant on pedestals at the Weatherspoon Art Museum. I was completely intrigued by the articulate way in which these very detailed, very bizarre structures came together. A looped video played in a corner near them of Cave himself performing in each of the featured soundsuits. Most of the time, there was no music because Cave wanted the viewer to hear the different sounds each suit made. These “creatures” all came to life and seemed to have their own personality to match the custom sound made by each of them. I’ve got to admit, the juxtaposition of rapid movements and sound to the awkward silence that the soundsuits were placed in made it SO HARD to watch with a straight face.
People, I TRIED, I REALLY DID try to find at least a clip of this 15min-or-so looped video, but sadly, I could not. Instead I found footage from a college student soundsuit invasion from UCLA put on by Nick Cave, which isn’t quite the same, but you should still at least skim this video. Oh, and I DARE YOU not to smile.
Hey, do these soundsuits remind you of anything? Anything at all?
If you guessed “those other-cultural kind of ‘costumes’ that we see in museums”, then you guessed right my friend!
Nick Cave frequently visits natural science museums and is often inspired by forms like the ones shown above.
“What I think about when I frequent the Museum of Natural History, the Metropolitan [Museum of Art], and I look at these artifacts that are taken out of context and how we’re forced to view them as objects, as relics, as sculpture— static. But what’s interesting is what it allows me to do in my head in terms of imagining what the possibilities are or imagining the role in which they played within a particular culture which I’m fascinated by.” - Nick Cave
Here’s another AMAZING QUOTE to go along with forms like these from Cave:
“This form comes about [by] looking at the mitre head, looking at the clan uniform, and looking at the head of a condom. So the intersections of all three of these has brought me to this form. (giggles) It gets a little intense.”
His traveling exhibition “Nick Cave: Meet Me At The Center of The Earth” made a stop at the Fowler Museum in 2010 and Cave was interviewed by its director, Marla C. Bernsasked. She asked him what material, scale and expansion of the human body means in terms of the his sound suits. The artist replied,
“I think first and foremost it’s really about this whole idea of erasing gender within the soundsuit and forcing the viewer to sort of come face-to-face with the unfamiliar.”
With the growing number of soundsuits made by Nick Cave, it’s not crazy to think that he has all but created another world. In this strange space where these creatures exist, communication would be made up of various movements and sounds in which each one can create within their means— there is no gender, no race, no sexuality, and no class in this utopian society. Ultimately, there is no judgement in this space, which I think is something that many humans yearn to experience— a life absent of being judged themselves. Yet we all at one time or another unintentionally perpetuate just the opposite.
OTHER WORKS AND THE FUTURE OF NICK CAVE:
Nick Cave also creates sculptures dealing with afro-centric stereotypes and artifacts and also looks at historical components that are critical to his practice of art. They give, in a sense, more explanation to his soundsuits and are composed of found objects (much like his “suits”) along with found black-faced painted lawn jockeys. Instead of his lawn jockeys holding lanterns below their heads, Cave makes them hold an “offering” of art to be held above their heads, in a less-passive manner. Ultimately, this addresses the whole notion of reconciliation, which then forces the viewer to reconsider the role and the power behind the imagery and the negativity that supports that.
He also takes other black-faced painted figurines and makes them juxtapose the role of religion along with the role of being a servant.
“Religion brings a sense of empowerment that helps an individual prevail and deal with circumstances that could be emotionally stressful.”
I find these sculptures by Nick Cave to be very powerful and moving in nature, but they hardly seem to be featured. I guess this work can easily fall into the shadows of the artist’s soundsuits. After all, Cave’s soundsuits cross over the boundaries of gender, race, sexuality, and class while bringing a smile to anyone and everyone’s face that comes in contact with them, which (if you haven’t guessed by now) is the major point of the soundsuits and the reason behind their success.
So what’s the next step for Nick Cave? In the Fowler’s artist talk and interview in 2010, Cave declared that by 2012, he would like to create a 90 soundsuit performance made up of all of the community performances he has made since then. It has yet to happen, but he still has time. Whether it happens this year or in 2015 it doesn’t really matter. Like they say, “You can’t rush art”.
Oh, and did I mention he would like to quit his day job? Ultimately, like all of us, Nick Cave would rather just do what he loves for a living- which is focusing only on his soundsuits and working with communities.
“My sound suits-they are what they are, but my real work is really sort of using them as a vehicle for change. That’s what’s the most important thing to me.”
Honestly, the with the wide acceptance of Cave’s art, he’s probably pretty close to that dream of his. As long as he keeps it going, there’s no where to go but up.
*Title image was created by yours truly
*All other images are ones taken from various google image searches, then put together by Katie Tyler
*All quotes from the artist were taken from this artist lecture/interview at the Fowler Museum at UCLA. Listen to/watch this vid if you have about an hour of spare time. Nick Cave discussing + answering questions about his work: http://vimeo.com/8872289 = SO WORTH IT!!!
*Here’s a New York Times article on Cave’s Soundsuits
*Nick Cave is currently being represented by Jack Shainman Gallery