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Nick Cave

Nick Cave

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Published by hollismickey

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Categories:Topics, Art & Design
Published by: hollismickey on May 08, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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S. Hollis MickeyDesigning HeritageProf. Ian RussellApril 25, 2010
 Resonant Garments
The Soundsuits of Nick Cave
Socks, paint, dryer lint, wood, and wool. This may seem like the most mundane list of materials, perhaps nothing more than might be found behind the washer and dryer. ContemporaryChicago artist Nick Cave reveals, however, that items such as these can be resonate with layeredmeanings. Cave assembles diverse found objects into ‘soundsuits’ that sculpt identity and re-figureritual practices of the past. Cave’s soundsuits have a distinctive kind of formal slipperiness thatmakes them difficult to describe. They could be sculpture, couture, instrument, or ritual costume.Through combination of various materials and ambiguities of form, Cave’s soundsuits bringtogether evocations of many times, places, and peoples to fashion dramatic transformations of the body vibrating with vast genealogies of materiality and cultural history.One of Nick Cave’s soundsuits
Soundsuit 1 (2006)
is currently on display as part of the “TheFigure” exhibition at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum,which runs through February 2011. The exhibition itself is presentedas disparate jumble of artists and approaches, which, even under the broad framework of ‘the figure’ struggles to find a cogent thread. Attimes, negotiating around the pieces and locating their labels is evenchallenging. Amongst the clumsy needlework of Tracey Emin andthe over-wrought engraving by Grayson Perry, Cave’s soundsuitasserts its presence. More than any other work in the exhibition, itengages with the notion of ‘figure.’ As a sculptural object, the work represents the human figure, offering a particular interpretation of 
Soundsuit 1
(2006), byNick Cave. Medium: socks,paint, dyer lint, wood,wool. In the collection of the Rhode Island School of Design Museum.
this familiar artistic subject. As clothing, the nine-foot tall suit suggests a re-definition of humanform, restructuring its volume both in scale and sonic expression. The title ‘soundsuit’ suggests thatthe work’s exploration of the figure is at once material and aural. The material ‘suit’ quality isobvious; the sonorous quality of the work in the silence of the gallery, must be interpreted. If thissuit was worn, it certainly would make noise: the driftwood would clang and click together witheach movement. This literal resonance is augmented by the metaphorical echoes produced by theimaginings, recollections, and perhaps even conversations its formal and material allusions spark.From this one object many vibrations emanate: the footsteps of 
obscured sacred dances, the murmur of whispered oral traditions, the muffled screams of obfuscated violence recalled, the jubilant criesof carnavale, and the rhythmic pulse of the house-ball dance floor. The suit truly has its own andsound; in fact, one might say even it has its own distinctive voice. For this reason, Cave’s soundsuittruly stands out as the most powerfully articulate work in the show. Its presence—alive in thesonorous imaginings it creates—has an uncanny animacy characteristic of the entire series. In thisway, Cave’s soundsuits are dense and vivid sonic palimpsests of past and present that can be wornon the body and felt by those bodies that encounter them. Nick Cave’s ability to create auratic objects from simple materials stems from hisupbringing in rural Missouri in an agrarian working-class family. Interested in fashion from hisyouth, he began to create his own accessories from what he could find around the house. As hisdesign-sense matured, he went on to the Kansas City Art Institute where he learned construction,received an MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art, and eventually opened his own store.Concurrent with his study of the body through fashion, he had become interested in dance, studyingwith the renowned Alvin Ailey company.
Alvin Ailey is a modern dance company based in New York, founded in 1958by choreographer and dancer Alvin Ailey. Its dancer’s are primarily of AfricanAmerican descent.
In 1992, Cave’s training in design and movement came together in his creation of his firstsoundsuit. After hearing of the Rodney King beating, he says “I started thinking about myself moreand more as a black man—as someone who was discarded, de-veiled, viewed as less than.”
Caverelates that while contemplating these thoughts in a local park, he noticed twigs on the earth. Hecollected twigs and eventually attached them to a garment structure which he could wear. Once hewas within it, the soundsuit disguised his identity and re-figured his body; it restricted and directedhis movement. For Nick Cave, there was freedom in this restriction. His strange clothing became acommunicative articulation of a body, a self, an identity liberated from stereotype, and insteadflexible, shifting, and layered. Inspired by the potential of this initial re-figuring of the body, Cavehas created hundreds of soundsuits in different materials like beads, feathers, human hair, trash,sequins, and raffia. The ultimate success of the work as soundsuits, rather than simply suits, reliesupon these materials. The materials which Cave chooses for his work index specific cultural and personal meanings. The twigs for example generally connote something natural, for Cave they alsosuggest isolation and disregard. Found objects, of which many of his suits are made, inherently haveimbedded, and often obscure, stories. The purchased materials like hair and sequins are evocative of  particular material relations and social systems of exchange. Cave collects all these material stories,narratives, and meanings into a garment to be worn. Through wearing these materials are, as hesuggest, re-animated. By putting them ‘into play’ and giving them ‘voice’ through performance,Cave creates an expressive space for a re-appropriation and re-negotiation of their meaning.Though some suits made of sequins or dyed hair may look carnivalesque or jubilant, thesoundsuits are not simple aesthetic objects. They are designed to be inherently social and political.Cave’s impetus is to uproot notions of fixed identity. As Cave has said, “I don’t really think of 
Finkel, Jori. “I Dream the Clothing Electric.” NYTimes. 5 April 2009. Accessed 4 April 2010. <http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/05/arts/design/05fink.html>.

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