Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Sound Suits of Nick Cave

Nick Cave is the director of the School of the Art Institute’s graduate fashion program, but that's not why I'm fascinated by him. I'm not even sure what to call his work, but he makes these insane costumes, which are kind of like sculptures, which he puts on contemporary dancers, so that they kind of become part of performance art. Kind of. Kind of because they're just really quite bizarre, but also beautiful, and even at their weirdest, they make you smile. He calls them "Sound Suits" because his first piece, made of twigs gathered from the ground in Chicago's Grant Park, was an artwork you could hear. They're made of everything from lost socks and dryer lint to human hair. The real thrill is when the dancers don these creatures and move together (see second video).

They're aliens. They remind me of a hundred different things--Dr. Seuss, extreme haute couture, Harry-huntin' Death Eaters, African and Native American ceremonial costumes, Star Wars, and Aunt Beast from A Wrinkle in Time, among others--but they are wholly their own. I love the way Judy Lightfoot describes them in her review of Cave's current exhibition: "They seem the grand universal embodiments of human elation and knickknacks." If you saw one of these coming toward you, would you smile, or be afraid?

These suits are challenging for me because they dance on that line between art and extreme fashion, playing with the genre of "wearable art." I truly mean "playing," because, unlike most of the works that can be classified as "wearable art," these works are fun.

^This video is phenomenal. I've seen it a couple of times, and it still makes me smile. I love the way he exhibits them. It's like Improv Everywhere, but with big, beautiful Muppets.

Cave's Sound Suits are on display in “Nick Cave: Meet me at the Center of the Earth,” at the Seattle Art Museum through June 5. I hear there's one made entirely of Beanie Babies. ROAD TRIP.

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