Artist Nick Cave has translated a love for dance into his lively “sound suits”. Here are three things to know about this vibrant series
At first glance, Chicago artist Nick Cave’s Soundsuits are colorful, even jubilant spectacles. Made from all sorts of materials – woven synthetic hair in kaleidoscopic hues of fluorescent green and hot pink, ceramic birds, sequins and bundles of twigs – these often-wearable costumes often resemble mythical creatures from storybooks or aliens. of Science fiction. But despite their impressive appearance, these sculptures were initially born in response to complex social and political realities. Cave, which was bborn in 1959 in Fulton, Missouri, created his first “sound suit” in 1992 following the beating of Rodney King. “It’s amazing how something so profound can literally change your direction of thought and creation,” the artist said in an interview with the Boston Institute of Contemporary Art.
While walking through the park, the artist intuitively began collecting twigs and using them to construct an elaborate costume. When worn, the suit produced its own unique sounds and Soundsuits were born. Over the past 30 years, Cave has created over 500 Soundsuits, elaborate sculptures inspired by African tribal regalia and even medieval capes. The artist sees these works as a kind of protective armor, disguising the wearer’s race, age and gender; in the meantime, their sensory richness dazzles the public. Currently, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago hosts “Forothermore”, a survey exhibition of Cave’s artistic output, including many of his iconic Soundsuits.
On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the creation of the first Soundsuit, we decided to take a closer look at this pivotal series and found three facts that can allow you to see them in a more complex way.
Cave’s interest in costumes began with self-expression
Now director of the graduate fashion program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Cave discovered his talent for transformation early on. The youngest of seven boys raised by a single mother, Cave grew up wearing second-hand clothes. “You have to figure out how to make these clothes your own… That’s how I started, using things around the house,” Cave said in a 2009 interview. Cave’s mother encouraged his creative forays and her experiments with fabric, and the artist vividly remembers the imaginative power of the sock puppets she made for her. “The transition from being just a sock to being my best friend at that time was so huge and yet so simple for me as a kid. How do we get that innocence back? How do we get back to that dream place?” asked the artist.
The Soundsuits Recast Humble Materials in a Leading Role
Much like the first Soundsuit was constructed from twigs found in a park, Cave continues to travel the world around him to collect the objects that make up these sculptural mixed-media costumes. Although the Soundsuits may seem otherworldly, the sculptures are made up of everyday materials – plastic buttons, feathers, sequins – which create a tension between the familiar and the imaginary. The artist describes Soundsuits as his way of “challenging” a world that often devalues individuals based on race, sexual orientation, class, or gender. Similarly, Cave subverts traditional definitions of fine art by creating objects at the crossroads of sculpture, fashion and performance.
“I discovered that what interested me was this whole idea of scrap. I started collecting materials from flea markets and antique malls. And so, for me, it’s kind of me to take these objects and reintroduce them and give them a new kind of role,” Cave said in a conversation with the Museum of Modern Art. “A lot of the things you’ll find in a Soundsuit are things that we all recognize. You know, how do we look at things that get devalued, thrown away, and bring another kind of relevance to them.
They can also be activated by dancing
Before becoming a visual artist, Nick Cave was a trained dancer at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. This passion for dance sustained the artist early in his career, spending hours in clubs, dancing alone and working on his thoughts.
Over the years, the artist has organized many performances with his Soundsuits. Although not all Soundsuits are meant to be worn, many have been designed with performers in mind. In 2013, the artist choreographed the in situ performance “Heard NYin collaboration with 60 dancers from the Alvin Ailey School at Grand Central Station in New York. These particular Soundsuits were made of colorful, crinkled raffia in shapes resembling life-size horses, with each suit being worn by two dancers. Together, the 30 horses – a herd – referenced the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority’s use of horses for transportation in the early 1900s. The performers would spontaneously dance through the famous transit hall.
More recently, Cave orchestrated Soundsuit shows with disadvantaged children. The sculptures, which can weigh up to 40 pounds, are meant to transport the wearer to a space of dream and revelation. Cave remembers trying out his first creation, saying: “I was inside a suit. You couldn’t tell if I was female or male; if I was black, red, green or orange; from Haiti or South Africa. I wasn’t Nick anymore, I was some kind of shaman.
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