Discarded & Transformed: Reflections on Nick Cave’s Sound Suits

by  R.S. Brunton

There is a monumental cloud of swirling colors and patterns floating in the entrance of an exhibition titled Nick Cave Feat. The exhibit is currently on display at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville, TN. As you gaze upward and follow the massive mural around the corner, you are greeted by a parade of figures adorned in a spectacle of colors and textures made from Americana delights.

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These life-sized figures lure you in with a child-like curiosity of “seek-n-find”, inviting you to look deeper into the memorabilia. Each is uniquely constructed with bits and pieces of local thrift; from the hand-crafted kitsch to the iconic pop-culture. Every object is thoughtfully constructed as  wearable sculptures that the artist has named “sound suits”.  

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Common objects are as accessible and memorable as items in our own homes. Cave, seems to be collecting these things to connect on us all on a more instinctive level. In one instance, a visitor noted that certain objects evoked happy memories of her grandmother as a child. Another visitor’s reaction was vocal, singing “...little bird, little bird where do you fly?” Yet, another felt sorrow for the inspiration to invent these second skins. In every occurrence, these sound suits have us sharing an array of emotions from joy, wonder, and even sadness. As a viewer, I quietly formulate my own reaction, which fluctuates from bliss to unease. Cave’s intention is to activate the viewer, the artwork, and our conversations.

What was Cave’s inspiration for these sound suits? It was his internal response to the Rodney King beating of 1991. Following this tragic event in our history, the artist was sitting in a park in deep reflection of his feelings to the tragedy, specifically being a black male in America. He felt discarded and began to collect similarly abandoned twigs laying on the ground around the park. Over time, he had gathered hundreds of twigs and had assembled the first sound suit which covered his entire being and made sound as he walked.

Today, Cave seeks discarded objects and transforms them into artwork in order to motivate discussion of issues such as gun violence, racial discrimination, and profiling across America. Whether you are capable of viewing Cave’s vivid works in person or not, ask yourself these questions: How have you connected to something discarded in your life? How has this experience transformed the way you view the world? What can you take from the experience to learn and teach others?

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Nick Cave: Feat. will be on view in the Frist Center for the Visual Arts until June 24, 2018. The Frist Center for the Visual Arts is located at 919 Broadway, Nashville, TN.

Maria Borghoff