Destination: Art - Nashville pit stop
Daffy Duck, crocheted pot holders, noisemakers, colorful beads and buttons, and the Easter Bunny. These are just some of the playful upcycled materials Nick Cave uses for his soundsuits, now on display in Nick Cave: Feat. at the Frist Center in Nashville.
On entering the exhibit you are greeted by seven soundsuits posed on a bright runway. The seven are a small fraction of Cave's now five-hundred-plus specimens made of colorful objects and dizzying patterns. I walked around the runway twice and found something new in each sculpture every time. Some of the suits mimic the human body while others distort any kind of recognizable space, making you wonder how it would feel to wear and move inside this mythical creature. And yes, Cave can wear each one. There is also an appreciation for the amount of time spent creating just one of these - it takes roughly seven hours to hand-sew just one square foot of a button soundsuit. The installation extends to the walls which Cave covered with thousands of shimmering buttons on black fabric.
The figures take up space - in every direction. They tower over you and with the addition of objects projecting out from their bodies they prevent you from coming too close. And this is where the interpretation starts to change. For while they are playful at first glance they also speak to issues of identity and social justice - specifically race, gun violence, and civic responsibility. Nick Cave originally had the idea for his soundsuits after the Rodney King beatings more than 25 years ago. He wanted a protective armor that obscured his race, gender, class, and sexuality from outside judgment. The desire as a black man to shield yourself when walking down the streets is an idea that is, unfortunately, still relevant. The name came from Cave's discovery that the suits made rustling noise as he walked around in them. However, you could also look at the title as indicating the loud alternative identities he created, or even further relate the sound as a cautionary warning - I am here, I am approaching, I mean no harm.
The exhibit goes on to show additional objects Cave transforms into high art. Cave rescues objects from flea markets, antique malls, and thrift stores to give them new life and purpose. Curator Katie Delmez writes, "This meditation bestows value on these objects and, by extension, associated memories and people that may be overlooked by mainstream society. Cave traces the use of cast-off items to his childhood, when he carefully altered and patched together hand-me-downs from his brothers to make them his own." The collage of objects in Wall Relief (pictured below, left) was a visual feast for the eyes, but it was the simplicity of Untitled (pictured below, center) and Cave's ability to transform handkerchiefs into an undulating offering-like sculpture that captured my attention.
Cave wants his art to extend beyond the museum walls. He combines public performances with his shows to include people that may not often have the experience of coming to an art museum. To continue this advocacy, Cave and the Frist Center have organized two free public performances. Katie Delmez again, "Cave's goal is to bring people of different backgrounds together, showcase underrecognized talents on a highly visible platform, and give participants a sense of their worth and potential." This is also a chance for the soundsuits to come off the mannequins and move. Cave's soundsuits will come to life in April 2018 for a collaboration with the Nashville Schermerhorn Symphony Center. Below is a video of a performance with dancers from William's College.