Between Sculpture and Fashion, Nick Cave’s Soundsuits

elaborate costume

Hand crocheted hot pads, spinning tops and metal toys.

How to describe these amazing hybrids? Part sculpture and equally, part costume. Displayed in a gallery on a pedestal or worn by a performer. Regardless of how you first encounter one of these Soundsuits I guess that your response will be like mine – a slight gasp as you look at these utterly powerful, unpredictable, and yes beautiful, objects.

Nick Cave is an artist, fashion designer and performer. His work includes sculpture, video, installation, costumes and performance. You can find all of the design elements and principles at play in his work. Some of his earliest pieces, which he still makes, are called “Soundsuits.” When worn, they move, making sounds based on their materials. Raffia and hair pieces create soft swishing noises, while pieces like the found toy suit shown above, clang and clack as the performer dances.

According to Cave’s gallery, the Jack Shaiman Gallery, the “Soundsuits camouflage the body, masking and creating a second skin that conceals race, gender, and class, forcing the viewer to look without judgement.” Wearing one of the suits, Cave could become a shaman of sorts. He found that this transformative state allows dreams and ritual to enter public life. And this is what allows the work to address difficult issues while being playful, wild and fun.

costume of twigs

Three inch twigs wired in place.

His first soundsuit was made in response to the Rodney King beating by police in 1991. He says of that time, “I started thinking about myself more and more as a black man – as someone who was discarded, devalued, viewed as less.” He says, “… people would talk about the way King had worked out with prison weights, building himself into something larger-than-life scary, and how it took 10 men to bring him down. The idea of the Soundsuit was an envisioning of what that character would look like.” This first piece was made as a sculpture but Cave soon realized he could wear it, and that when worn it made incredible sounds. The sounds allowed him to be heard, and he began to think about his “role and civic responsibility as an artist.”

Nick Cave – Soundsuits in Action from Frist Center for the Visual Arts on Vimeo.

You can see more examples of Nick Cave’s work here…  (When you get to the site click on one of the small figures at the top of the page to enter a slide show).

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