One of the great benefits my job affords me is the ability to become a more active viewer and participant in our local art scene. Earlier this week I got to take part in a private showing of Nick Cave: FEAT at Nashville’s Frist Center for Visual Arts…I knew who Nick Cave the musician was, but had no idea he was a visual artist too. Wrong Nick Cave. THIS Nick Cave, whose work is being shown at the museum through June 2018, is a sculptor, trained Alvin Ailey dancer, and performance artist, best known for his ‘soundsuits’. When he’s not making art he’s helping the next generation make their own wearable art through his role as director of the graduate fashion program at School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
I had no idea what to expect from the show itself. Turns our Mr. Cave makes art that speaks to race, identity, and gender through the use of repurposed tchotchkes, fabrics, and found objects. I am not sure I got any race, gender, or identity message but it was hard to miss his commitment to recycling. As a sometime fashion designer I was fascinated by his utilization of found objects to create his signature ‘soundsuits’. I spent a lot of time looking at each piece, trying to figure out how a wearer would put the garment on, how much each suit might weigh (many suits looked heavy) and how easily it would be to move once the garment was on.
I found some of the featured suits to be borderline disturbing. It appears he names each soundsuit with the year it was made while I preferred to gave each a nickname instead. His massive ‘Sock Puppet’ suit interwove knit coils and toys in a variety of browns, grey, blacks and reds that creeped me out so badly I had to shield my eyes when passing it.
On the other end of the spectrum, a number of the suits were quite beautiful,. I spent a lot of time studying Soundsuit 2017, which utilized wire, bugle beads, buttons and upholstery fabric. From a distance the disc covering the face resembled a dense heavy black circle, but closer inspection revealed a finely fringed surface extending from a whirl of darkly compatible greens, blues, and magentas. Much of Mr. Cave’s art features layers, both materially and in meaning. It’s a crafted slyness that I can appreciate.
In addition to the soundsuits, the show also featured a video installation, sculptures, and 3-dimensional wall hangings. I really enjoyed Wall Relief 2013, a series a huge panels built upon a foundation of fabric and crocheted pieces, overlaid with every flea market, yard sale, and junk yard geegaw imaginable. Cave used so many birds, baubles, and beads for these pieces I suspect Chicago is still in the midst of a gimcrack shortage.
I feel in love with Blot, a video featuring an artist (and mirror image) dressed in a black raffia soundsuit rhythmically moving for almost 43 minutes. The piece resembled an ever-evolving Rorschach test accompanied by a soundtrack of melodically hypnotic raffia rustlings courtesy of the suit. Over the 20 minutes I watched, the images moved from scary to comforting to beautiful to frightening and back again, transfixing me to the spot as the soothing music lulled me into a state of tranquility and erasing any fears raised by the pictures.
In keeping with the artist public performance pieces, this April Cave will direct Nick Cave: Feat. Nashville at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center. The large-scale performances include three customized compositions (“Blanket Statement,” “Heard,” and “Up Right”) that combine a variety of genres, from music and dance to spoken word, and feat. Cave’s signature soundsuits as part of the visual extravaganza.
Have you seen Cave’s work before? Do you think you would be able to create a soundsuit from a bunch of yard sale and flea market finds? What’s the last art installation you’ve seen? I’d love to know…