Put a cape or tutu on a kid and the only thing stopping them from becoming a superhero or princess is our own stunted adult imaginations. Inside Nick Cave’s towering suits of orbiting toy tops, twig quills, human hair and bouncing ceramic birds not only is the wearer transformed but our world along with it. Cave’s work is often compared to Shamanism and its role as both community healer and liaison to the spirit world. The ceremonial quality of his suits, much like the talisman covered robes of tribal shamans are, along with dance and music a means to entrance and suspend our earthly consciousness long enough to open our spirits to the messages being conveyed.
Art, fashion, music and dance….sound like yet another glossy lifestyle magazine? Mercifully not so this time. The Chicago-based artist and his small army of 7′ tall wearable-art pieces has finally forged a convincing bridge between the multiple personalities of artistic expression. The alchemist in this case draws from his experience as an Alvin Ailey dancer and textile artist, currently Professor of Fiber Arts at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Nick Cave’s legion of 40 “soundsuits” and their fantastically embellished skins are also instruments themselves, producing audial textures through movement and dance.
Cave’s magpie use of materials evoke everything from kitschy nostalgia to a visceral “cousin It” trepidation. Always sewn never glued Cave lauds both the physical history as well as surface beauty of the found objects in his top heavy costumes. Although some pieces are made specifically with performance in mind others go directly into galleries. Cave remarks of his technicolor yetis, “You know it’s hair, but you don’t know where it comes from. It’s seductive but also a bit scary.” In fashioning a piece out of doilies, he said, “I might be thinking about Kuba cloths, Haitian voodoo flags or Tibetan textiles.”
But it was his first piece constructed entirely of twigs that set the bigger-question-cogs in motion. “It was a very hard year for me because of everything that came out of the Rodney King beating,” he said. “I started thinking about myself more and more as a black man — as someone who was discarded, devalued, viewed as less than.” Suddenly the twigs on the ground in a park took on “a new light: they looked forsaken too.” New York choreographer Ronald K. Brown animated the suits while they made their temporary home at SanFrancisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts earlier this year. With complete artistic license in dynamizing the “costumes” Brown chose to set them to rhythm of Sabar, a dynamic dance style from Senegal opting for it “because the arms and legs are very expressive. The legs extend so far from the body.” Check out the suits in motion video link here.
It doesn’t stop there, Cave’s creations are the unequivocal triple-threat: Visually intricate, physically explosive and a cacophony of audial textures. The materials of each suit define its voice, sometimes metallic, clanging others whispery or rustling. Cave sees no limits to their evolution, “More and more I’m thinking of using the Soundsuits as a kind of orchestra. You could take three or five and record a concert. Or you could take 90 Soundsuits and make a full symphony out of them.”
His extravagantly decorative one-man-band suits address issues of identity, physicality and . The materials themselves are elevated simply by their being collected, placed voiced and performed. Now we just have to make sure we’re listening.
“Soundsuits” is currently on exhibit at the Scottsdale Museum of Modern Art and will be at UCLA’s Fowler Museum in 2010.
Alvin Ailey, Jack Shainman Gallery, Nick Cave, Rodney king, Ronald K. Brown, Sabar, sabrina morrison, School of Art Institute of Chicago, Scottsdale Museum of Modern Art, Shamanism, UCLA's Fowler Museum, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
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