Nick Cave, a contemporary artist known for his wearable sculptures called Soundsuits, was the inaugural speaker for the Brown Arts Initiative’s Warren and Alison Kanders Lecture Series. His presentation saw a full house at the Martinos Theater in the Granoff Center for the Creative Arts last Wednesday, when he was joined on stage by the curator of his last installation at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, Denise Markonish.
The presentation began with a 30-minute screening of Cave’s film, “Up Right: Detroit,” which offered an introduction into the type of sculptures and work that Cave has been doing with Soundsuits. As ambient, sententious music plays, the audience sees several ordinary Detroit citizens transform into colorful and opulently Soundsuit-adorned individuals, who exit an abandoned warehouse and make their way into the city.
The lecture series is “designed to serve as a catalyst for open dialogue about the impact of contemporary art on our world,” said Butch Rovan, the faculty director of the Brown Arts Initiative, who was involved in planning the Kanders Lecture Series.
“Up Right: Detroit is a short feature film conceived by Nick as an act of initiation and a preparation of the mind, body, spirit and selfhood,” Rovan said. “In the film, the participants undergo a metamorphosis by being costumed in Nick’s elaborate sound suits, re-entering the city transformed.”
After the screening, Cave and Markonish discussed Cave’s path into the art world, his creative process and the meaning behind the MASS MoCA installation called “Until,” which was an enormous and monumental warehouse that did not contain a single one of the Soundsuits that Cave is known for but rather attempted to simulate the experience of “stepping into the belly of a Soundsuit,” Markonish said.
“The most important thing is how do you create a show that can stand as a sort of installation by itself without any sort of performance activity whatsoever,” Cave said, adding that the next step is to consider how the space “open(s) itself up for performance intake.” Over the course of 10 months, approximately 10 performers used the space in which Cave’s exhibition was held as a stage for public debate and performances.
Cave’s exhibition and previous work in Soundsuits ask questions of police brutality and social justice. “The work that he’s showing was … very topical. It’s very much geared towards a particularized sentiment based around police brutality and issues surrounding ongoing treatment of African Americans in society,” said Theodore Lau ’19.5, who attended the lecture. The Soundsuits were meant to make “the person entirely racially ambiguous, so that they could … exist in a post-racial sphere or bubble.”
“I really wanted to hear what he had to say about (his work), about his formulation, about his opinions on the issue (of police brutality), (and) how he was then thinking about articulating those into the show,” Lau said.