Nick Cave's Whimsical, Wearable Soundsuits

  • By Steph L

Nick Cave's Whimsical, Wearable Soundsuits

Costuming and art through clothing and fabrics has always had a really special place in my heart so in this profile I decided to focus on one of my all time favourite fabric and performance artists, Nick Cave (not that Nick Cave).

Cave grew up in Missouri and attended the Kansas City Art Institute and later became an Alvin Ailey trained dancer. His lower socio-economic background influenced how he looked at clothing and fabrics, manipulating new forms and pieces of clothing from hand-me-downs or scrap he could find. This influence has obviously been the base for future creations where he creates form and structure through different types and shapes of fabric all mixed together. Cave calls these Soundsuits. The soundsuits appear to be influenced by African art traditions, ceremonial dress, armour, high fashion and so much more but can be interpreted in many different ways depending on their nature, static, moveable, in a museum or as part of a performance. As part of the performative nature of Nick Cave’s art, he curates and choreographs dances with the Soundsuits, utilising the fabric’s movements and the sounds they make.

The first of the Soundsuit Series was created in 1992. Cave says,

This first suit was made from twigs and Cave says that when he first put on this suit, it covered him completely. The viewer couldn’t tell if it was a man or woman, black or white. This absolute freedom was something he was looking for as a reaction to his lived experience and allowed him expression and empowerment so he continued making more soundsuits, progressively getting more and more extravagant. He says in his video Thick Skin (2016), that the Soundsuits hide gender, race and class, and force the viewer to look upon them without judgement; something many people are searching for in everyday life. The Soundsuits themselves have progressed into looking so much more extravagant and vibrant but the sombre origin holds true to their story.

Wearable art like this, similar in many ways to Club Kid fashion of the 80s and 90s, drag costuming and artists like Leigh Bowery, allows the wearer to become whatever they want without the outside judgement of the world, without categorising, being one on one with something that is unfamiliar without the nuance of needing to know what it is. Its comment is a comment on how easily labelled and characterised our lives are when everyone is placed in a space with a name that describes them, but once you take aways that label, you become free.

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