Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Nick Cave: Meet me at the Center of the Earth

It has been about 14 years since Chicago artist Nick Cave created his first sound suit.  In March 2011, the Seattle Art Museum hosted a large collection of Nick Cave's work including some of his most well known as well as his newest soundsuits , called Meet me at the Center of the Earth. The show presented room after room of the oddly formed suits accompanied by videos of the soundsuits in action and objects Cave made during production of the suits to practice his techniques.  Lucky for us, a lusciously illustrated catalog was printed that documents Cave's development from objects to soundsuits, includes historical and contemporary references, essays and an interview with Cave fill the pages of this 240 page must-have catalog.

What is a sound suit?  My definition of Nick Cave's soundsuits is that they are wearable collections of found objects or natural materials that are intentionally and meticulously combined, appliqued, embroidered, sewn and fabricated together to create bulbous, textured skins that can be worn and performed.  Some of the suits create sound when the objects attached to the suit hit each other when Cave dances, or jumps while wearing the suit.  The suits became "soundsuits" in 1998, when Cave made a suit of sticks and enjoyed the sound it made when he put the suit on and performed it.

twigs, wire, metal armature

appliqued construction with found knitted, woven, and crocheted fabric

human hair, metal armature
patchwork knitted and crocheted found fabric, drier lint, socks, driftwood, metal armature

found abacus, fabric with appliqued buttons, metal armature
plastic sandwich bags, Barbie dolls covered and stitched in found knit fabric, metal armature

I really enjoy the variety of materials that Cave employs in his work.  Nothing is off limits!  From crocheted bags, doilies, sweaters and sequins to pieces of wood, plastic buttons, toys and bags to covering Barbie dolls with fabric (above).  I believe Cave's choice to "mine" objects that exist in culture to talk about our existence in culture and ability to shift culture is incredibly relevant and totally cool.
Aside from the solid collection of amazing photographs archiving Cave's development, I also really enjoyed reading the essays included to preface the work.  My favorite essay was by Dan Cameron

Cameron notes Cave's need to create an autonomous object, and appreciates the life these objects create when they are performed.  Cameron also acknowledges the difficulties of "reconciling time-based art - i.e. performance - with the static object." Cameron then positions Cave in art and social history as a contemporary of Joseph Beuys, whose performance and video work created a path to attempt to deal with time-based art and the residual object and Leigh Bowery, whose shape-shifting costumes and gender bending performances are considered to be some of the greatest influences of the 1980s and 1990s London and New York Fashion circles, including singer-songwriter Boy George and British fashion designer, Alexander McQueen.

Joseph Beuys
"How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare"
Performance still

Leigh Bowery

In addition to Cameron's placement of Cave's work in Art and Fashion History, he notes the ornamentation and performance of Cave's work as drawing similarities to the American Mardi Gras Indians of New Orleans.

Ervin "Honey" Barrister, Creole Wild West
shows off his Mardi Gras Indian costume during the West Bank Super Sunday Parade

"Creole Wild West: Mardi Gras Indians"
Louisiana Humanities

I was so excited to be introduced to the Mardi Gras Indians because I feel like it is very easy to expect a connection between Cave's work and African tribal dance, because there is certainly a connection there (in fact, the exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum was run in conjunction with an exhibition of African tribal artifacts and video documentation of African tribal dances), however I appreciated the Mardi Gras Indian connection since it is an African-AMERICAN tradition and Cave is an American, after all.

1 comment:

lucielucie said...

Hello, i think the name of Beuys' performance you posted a picture is "Coyote, I like America and America likes me"