Hallucinate a tie-dyed Yeti getting down in the jungle and you’ll have an approximate idea of just how colorful and savagely hip Nick Cave’s solo exhibition, Let’s C, at the Fabric Workshop and Museum is. Featuring 14 of Cave’s iconic “soundsuits,” a video of the suits set in motion, an installation of hanging bamboo beads and a custom-designed, street-level facade, Let’s C seethes with color and delights with movement.
Named “soundsuits” after the unique noise each sculpture makes when it moves, Cave’s enormous, wearable costumes are handcrafted using a staggering range of materials. While each sculpture perches atop a pair of mannequin’s legs (sheathed in knitted tights), they vary drastically from the knees up. One is a teetering honeycomb of stuffed animals, another a medley of embroidered rugs. In “Speak Louder” (2011), three figures with megaphone-shaped heads stand loosely connected by a swathe of pearlescent buttons. Could it be a thrice-cloned Liberace for the digital age? A tribal totem from a secret urban sect? Visitors from a distant (fashion-forward) planet? As in all Cave’s work, associations abound. And given his training, there’s probably some truth to just about all of them.
With an MFA in art, and dance training from Alvin Ailey Dance Theater in New York, Cave is an eclectic artist, moving deftly between fine art, dance and fashion. Currently head professor and chairman of the Fashion Department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, he’s on a mission to connect people with art: “My only concern around my work is making sure that my art continues to reach a broader community,” he says. Judging by the turnout at his Dec. 16 opening, Cave’s work is practically universal; Let’s C appeals on a primal register, mixing brilliant color with seductive rhythms and exquisite craftsmanship.
Especially intriguing is the series “ Mating Season ” (2011), comprised of four shaggy haired sculptures. Reminiscent of the aforementioned Yeti, some of these impeccably groomed beasts have rabbit ears, and one has even sprouted three heads. Made entirely of human hair, they’re cousins to the posse in Cave’s single-channel video, “Drive-By” (2011).
If “Mating Season” shows us Cave’s hairsuits in restive symmetry, then the bouffant costumes in “Drive-By” unleash their wild side. Sewn from brightly dyed human hair, these suits are fatter, glossier and friskier than the others. The video features suited dancers flashing across the screen in various configurations, sometimes somersaulting, sometimes falling from the sky.
Perfectly synched to the clubby soundtrack, the video can seem a bit slick. Still, a slowed-down segment with pogo sticks is admittedly spectacular. The suits in motion are supple and primal, and when they move, you want to move with them. Speaking to the mix of tribal animism and runway chic, Cave sums up the effect well: “It’s seductive, but also a bit scary.”
Less stylish and more powerful was the opening night performance, “Architectural Forest” (2011), in which 11 dancers (most of whom sported soundsuits) shimmied, crawled and spun their way through and around a large installation of bamboo beads hung on strings from the ceiling. Printed with psychedelic patterns that merge in and out of its reedy depths, the installation is immersive and visually enthralling—even without the added thrill of live performance. “Architectural Forest” is on view for the duration of the exhibition on the 8th floor.
Even stationary, Cave’s soundsuits speak to our deep-seated fantasy that the objects we see in museums live a secret half-life. As they come alive onscreen, the sheer pleasure of watching them dance is enough to make you wish that you could try one on, lose your inhibitions and find your inner Wild Thing.
Through mid-February. The Fabric Workshop and Museum, 1214 Arch St. 215.561.8888. fabricworkshopandmuseum.org
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