If Gumby had gone on a mystical journey through space and time – starting perhaps in an ancient Congolese village, making a left turn in King Louis XV’s court, rolling through an Andy Goldsworthy installation and ending up at an all night Mardi Gras bash – he might end up looking like one of Nick Cave’s freakishly beautiful “Soundsuits.”
On display at the Fowler Museum in L.A. until the end of May are 35 of the artist/dancer’s costume creations. As beautiful and haunting as these works are standing still, they can’t be fully appreciated unless seen and heard. In the tradition of African tribal masks and costumes, these “sculptures” are meant to be danced in, transforming the wearer into a god, an animal, a tree, a bogeyman.
This is the art of reclamation. Nick Cave said he was inspired to create his first soundsuit right after the Rodney King beatings, a reclamation of black power which drew on ancient tribal precedents, transfiguring a million twigs into a single 8’ tall crunchy, rustling monster.
Inside the first sound suit, man becomes nature -- a bogeyman on a mission to transform vanishing fragments of times past into living breathing form.
The first soundsuit sent Cave on his path. Each of his subsequent creations would be fabricated almost entirely from found or discarded objects – buttons, old swatches of fabric, socks or hats, crotched potholders, old tins, vintage toys or ceramic birds, even died human hair.
Cave collages together these artifacts which serve both to acknowledge the old days (when people had time to actually hand knit an intricately patterned hot pad) and to celebrate the pure graphic qualities of a simple thing taken dramatically into a new context.
Cave is attracted to the “low craft high art things that are discarded…devalued” because, as he says, they offer an opportunity for him and his audience to “renegotiate their roles.”
It strikes me that we are a society desperately in need of renegotiating our agreements with the corporate-driven forces of homogeneity, and Nick Cave’s noisy, outlandish, color saturated art gives some hints about where to start.
- Karl Burkart