Nick Cave of Fulton and The Soundsuits

“The moment you wear the suit, you are shielded. Your identity is no longer relevant.”

Author: Sylvia Borissova

Be in no hurry to think that The Soundsuits is the new band-adventure of legendary rock musician Nick Cave after Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, The Boys Next Door, The Birthday Party and Grinderman:

There is an equally talented (*and a year and a half older) Nick Cave, a native of Fulton, Missouri, who creates curious social projects in the field of visual and performing arts. American Nick Cave is a performance artist, dancer and sculptor, working mainly with textile fabrics. His interest in assemblages and collages of objects, materials and fabrics he came across by chance dates from his early childhood among many siblings, brought up with love and taste for the interesting, colorful and unusual.

In 1992, ten years after graduating from Hickman High School (1977) and becoming a Bachelor of Fine Arts at the Kansas City Art Institute (1982), Cave created his first so-called soundsuits: these are bright, whimsical and seemingly otherworldly sculptures of various fabrics and materials that can be worn as clothing. His later sculptures gradually focused on color theory, mixed media, and large-scale installations, and Cave became director of the Fashion Program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. However, he continues to work on his ‘soundsuits’ over the years (get ready for a new surprise!):

‘Soundsuits’ are so called because the materials on them ‘sound’ when moving. However, the idea for them didn’t come from an accidental creative whim, but has a deep social meaning and commitment: it is Nick Cave’s reaction to the beating of activist Rodney King by police officers. Cave collected many sticks and twigs from the ground and turned them into a costume that makes sounds when someone wears it—this costume is a metaphor for a person who wraps himself in a shield to defend himself from others. The sculptures have so far been exhibited in static exhibitions as well as in live performances, video and photography. Cave himself dances dressed in them, thus, in the words of journalist Richard Lacayo for Time,

activating their full potential as costume, musical instrument, and living icon.

In this way, Cave wants the receiver to turn his attention to the work itself, regardless of who is behind its creation: while watching a series of parade costumes, one does not know who is in them, one knows neither his or her gender or race, nor anything about his or her identity.

The moment you wear the suit, you are shielded. Your identity is no longer relevant. © Nick Cave—Visual Artist Facebook page

Now Cave’s ‘soundsuits’ amount over 500. They envelop the wearer’s body in materials of all ranks, from beads, feathers, and dyed human hair used in former ritual costumes, to sisal, plastic buttons, wire, and sequins. The costumes mask the body and seem to create a second skin that disguises race, gender and socioeconomic class: thus the viewer is freed from his otherwise always estimating and judging observation. The ‘soundsuits’ can convey many messages and characters at the same time, depending on the environment, movement, fixed state or group choreography in which they are placed.

Any resemblance of the ‘soundsuits’ to the African ceremonial costumes and masks is not accidental; Cave’s visual references to carnival costumes, the costumes of the West African Dogon tribe, and Rococo and drag ball cultures are deliberately multifaceted. The center of perception of the ‘soundsuits’ should be the movements, colors, materials and as their name suggests—the sounds, in general, all the signs and holidays of the senses: but not the person who in one way or another can be turned by others into victim of discrimination and violence.

Curiously, Cave’s sculptures also include non-figurative assemblages, intricate masses of found objects (Fr. objets trouvés) protruding from the wall, and art installations surrounding entire rooms. Thus, the ‘dressing up’ becomes an attribute of the world around us in general, to remind us of the celebration of movements, sounds, shapes, tectonics and textures above all human and only affected differences.


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