If you’ve been wondering what can be done with all those 80’s sequin sweaters, 70’s knit doilies, brightly dyed human hair, thousands of buttons, and a variety of other detritus turned art materials, that is not pretentious or hokey, but is a dynamic artistic contribution. You need look no further than Yerba Buena center for the Art’s headlining exhibition “Meet Me At The Center of The Universe” works by Nick Cave. The exhibition features the largest assembled collection of what Cave calls “soundsuits”. The suits are essentially costumes for the human body made from the aforementioned materials, culled from 2nd hand depositories, beauty supply stores and nature. These suits, when worn create a variety of sounds attributable to the different materials used to make them. The pieces themselves are highly and meticulously embellished sculptures. However, when worn, and with the inevitable addition of movement they become both instrument, and dance costume.
I had the pleasure of viewing this show last week, and was not disappointed. The first room I entered in the exhibition was one with video footage of the suits being danced in and examples of different sound qualities that emit from the various costumes. Up until then I’d only seen the “soundsuits” via computer image. The addition of movement was revelatory and immediately evocative of ritual, or some sort of tribal ceremony. The largest screen showed dancers wearing colorful "soundsuits" made of raffia with what appeared to be clown faces. The dancing was being performed on crowded, urban city streets. There was an air of celebration and whimsy, but also a touch of menace or moral ambiguity (set off, no doubt by the crazy clown smile). This jubilant yet fearful paradox seemed to resonate throughout the exhibit.
All of the soundsuits cover the whole body from head to toe, and as is the case with costumes that disguise the identity, a sense of otherness is created. Who are these characters? Where did they come from? And what were they here to say? My brain was working overtime trying either to cast them into some imagined environment or trying to recall from what dream (or nightmare, albeit a very interesting one) they seemed familiar.
Aside from the soundsuits, the exhibition also featured what can only be described as life sized “taxidermied-like” bears and beavers. Instead of fur, teeth, or skin, the forms were entirely covered in knit sweaters, which were stretched and sewn over the sculpted animal forms. Much to my chagrin images of these animals are nowhere to be found. I have to assume that these creatures are a very new part of the artist’s oeuvre and so have not been widely documented yet. Anyhow, I particularly loved a polar bear that was covered entirely with cream colored, cabled sweaters. (If I could’ve ridden it out of the building I would’ve.) Atop the bear sat a “soundsuited” figure made almost entirely of bright green human hair. The figure faced backward with its head and shoulders slightly slumped. This was the only instance in which there was an interaction between the human and animal forms. The relationship between the two only served to further elaborate upon this mythical world that I’d imagined these beings harkening from.Wherever and whatever this place may be it is undoubtedly a charming and incongruous locale. Where the ominous is humorous and the somewhat sinister is simultaneously compelling.
*The exhibit also includes several photographs of the artist wearing the “soundsuits” and 2 very large circular wall hangings fashioned from those sequined sweaters I mentioned earlier.
If you get a chance and are in the Bay Area area, do go check this show out. It runs until July 5th.The link that follows is to the YBCA page. http://www.ybca.org/tickets/production/view.aspx?id=8191