In the areas of fiber arts and performance art, one name reins supreme: Nick Cave. Not to be confused with the musician, Nick Cave, the fiber/performance artist creates “sound suits” from found objects, including beads connected like tiny seeds of creativity, glass or plastic pieces strung together to form intricate patterns that suggest Brazilian or Caribbean carnival themes. These suits might also be layered with twigs and flowing hair, which from a distance looks like trees dancing in the woods, from some weird fairy tale.
This Cranbrook Design school graduate—who also serves as chair of the Fashion Design Department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago—has created new artistic boundaries as he adapts old with new art techniques. With a unique mix of fibers and other materials, he has produced furniture, clothing and much more. This new relationship between contemporary art, crafts, and fashion was evident in the 2007 “Radical Lace and Subversive Knitting” exhibition mounted by the Museum of Art and Design.
But this movement of sorts almost didn’t happen.
Sometime in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, the interest in knitting started to fade, followed closely by the dwindling number of yarns shops throughout New York City. Today, knitting has emerged as a viable fiber art form, with a different twist that leans towards free-form, stylized garments, or products that are a combination of materials. These materials feature a mix of fibers with varied textures, as well as found objects from nature, even buttons or beads.
Cave’s work has forced other fiber artists and artists in other disciplines to reexamine their own material references. Whether you have the experience of witnessing Cave’s suits in performances, or as immobile figures in a gallery, you can still experience the sound and visual dialogue his pieces provoke. His work speaks to viewers with a cacophony of sounds heard over and over again.
Cave had previously danced with the Alvin Ailey Dance Company. One day he began to pay attention to the cacophony of sounds that came form his costume, which was mostly made of twigs. As he moved his body, each twig bushed against another and produced barely audible but regular sounds. Similar sounds came from other dancers who were gyrating to the beat of accompanying drums.
He had found a muse who would inspire his new art form—himself.
His canvases of his own or other dancers’ bodies expanded to include skintight leotards, to loose fitting garments with deep hoods. His materials now include beads, bangles, and sequins. No objects are off-limits; nor any subject. He has pulled together references from the social and political issues of the day, using for example, his own state of blackness as a silhouette; and in a nod to the Rodney King trial, a piece that expresses the freedom—or lack thereof—of the black male body, this time tied with materials that look like rope. The most ornate work can resemble over-sized deities, similar to spiritual figures from the African Yoruba tradition, or the Brazilian Candomble.
Nick Cave is represented by the Jack Shainman Gallery in New York City.
more links to Nick Cave soundsuits.