Love at First Sight: Nick Cave’s Soundsuit

December 26, 2012

Nick Cave's Soundsuit

It was love at first sight when I saw American Art's museum staff erect the quirky mix of armature, doilies, and glitter, which artist Nick Cave calls a soundsuit. I am now a Nick Cave junkie. I try to see him every time he’s in D.C., including once when I was lucky enough to see the soundsuits during the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Art’s Street Art Across America festival. While I was first drawn to Cave’s repurposing of discarded objects, my appreciation for his art has only deepened as I learn more.

Nick Cave started making soundsuits as a form of self-reflection in the early 1990s. He was deeply troubled by the Rodney King beating and Cave made his first suit out of found twigs as a way to shield and protect his identity as a black man. Trained as a dancer and an artist, Cave realized that the suit made noise when worn and has since made hundreds of soundsuits of almost every imaginable material. In a recent interview with The Washington Post, Cave referred to his suits as a barricade between him and the outer world. In shielding the wearer’s identity, Cave also allows that person to be completely their self and anonymous. Each person brings a unique identity to the suit.

Cave’s soundsuits encompass all art forms. They are part craft, fashion, dance, and sound. Not all of them are intended to be worn, however. I wonder how our suit, which resembles a missile or religious miter, would move. Would it make noise? Or would the performance be the interaction of light on the piece's sequins and metallic yarn? Or, perhaps it's not really about the suit, but how the wearer expresses him or herself? These are exactly the types of questions Cave wants us to ask ourselves when we see his art. He wants us to use our imagination, something which I heard him say we need to do more often.

You can now see American Art’s Soundsuit in the Lincoln Gallery. Watch some YouTube videos of the soundsuits in action, visit our piece, and let us know what you think! Perhaps a fan club might be in order.

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