Sunday, February 25

Nick Cave’s exhibit of “˜Soundsuits’ at the Fowler Museum moves beyond identity and the familiar


A collage of several Soundsuits by artist Nick Cave are currently featured at the Fowler Museum of Cultural History. The exhibit, "Nick Cave: Meet Me at the Center of the Earth," features 35 Soundsuits, so named because some suits make a sound when worn and performed. Created from a range of materials such as human hair and old socks, the suits generally cover the entire person except for a few glimpses of the hands or face.

A collage of several Soundsuits by artist Nick Cave are currently featured at the Fowler Museum of Cultural History. The exhibit, "Nick Cave: Meet Me at the Center of the Earth," features 35 Soundsuits, so named because some suits make a sound when worn and performed. Created from a range of materials such as human hair and old socks, the suits generally cover the entire person except for a few glimpses of the hands or face. Ryan Brown / Daily Bruin


Visiting the new exhibit at the Fowler Museum of Cultural History, “Nick Cave: Meet Me at the Center of the Earth,” one may feel he or she has landed on another planet. Ten-foot tall, oddly colored creatures stand still, making incredible sound. Yet as other-worldly as they seem, they are made out of parts of our everyday lives ““ proof of Cave’s ability to turn the ordinary into extraordinary.

They are all part of Chicago artist Nick Cave’s 35 “Soundsuits” on display, given such a name for the incredible sound they make when worn and performed. Cave trained as an Alvin Ailey dancer, and as the current chairman of the Fashion Department at the Art Institute of Chicago, Cave has experienced a vast range of influences.

The Soundsuits are created out of everything from human hair, to spinning tops, noisemakers, ceramic birds, old socks and heater pads.

“I’m very interested in low-craft, high art, things that are discarded, viewed less-than, devalued, forcing me as well as my audience to renegotiate their roles,” Cave said.

The inspiration for Nick Cave’s first suit had its origins right here in Los Angeles.

“My first Soundsuit was in response to the Rodney King incident, which is really the nemesis behind all of this work,” Cave said.

Wearing a Soundsuit can completely erase the identity of the person inside; only in a few of the suits are glimpses of the hands or face possible.

“I think about these as second skins, or a barrier, a space that protects me from the outer world … erasing gender and forcing the viewer to come face-to-face with the unfamiliar,” Cave said.

Cave’s work also evokes African, Carnival and Mardi Gras masquerade traditions, giving it a global context and historical connection, In these masquerades, the suits often took on a spiritual purpose such as driving evil spirits away. Sometimes, however, it’s just plain fun. Some of Cave’s suits resemble Pac-Man or an astronaut, others the miter of a bishop, and many take on an animal-like appearance. One sculptural setting in the exhibit shows little beavers building a dam, with old sweaters serving as logs.

“Animals have so much to teach us,” Cave said. “I hope that by merging animal parts with human parts in these Soundsuits, people will be forced to pay attention to what they are doing to our earth and the animals living here with us.”

It’s this mixture of playfulness and morality that UCLA’s Department of World Arts and Cultures, teamed up with the Fowler Museum, is bringing to the L.A. community. The so-called Soundsuit invasions will have UCLA students performing in the suits all around Los Angeles. The times and locations of these invasions will be announced by Fowler Museum via Twitter and Facebook.

“It’s fun seeing people’s reactions,” said Sara Stranovsky, coordinator for Fowler Out Loud. “I think that’s one of the points of the invasions, to interrupt people’s lives in a fun, questionable way.”

A former UCLA creative writing student herself, Stranovsky called upon current creative writing students to participate in the Out Loud performance on Feb. 4. They were asked to pick out a particular suit and write a story or poem about it, which they will then read as the suits are performed.

Eric Ku, a fourth-year UCLA creative writing student, decided to write a story about a suit with a disconcerting narrative already in place. The suit has the face of a tiger, and suspended above the head, by way of a metal armature that rests on the shoulders, are ceramic birds.

“I liked (Cave’s) idea of representing cultural attractions, and the cultural clashes. … It all goes together to make something very unique,” Ku said.

The interdisciplinary nature of this exhibit goes even further with the inclusion of music.

Derek Heath, a Design | Media Arts student, and Alex Faciane, a student at Cal State Fullerton, paired up to create “Soundscapes” for the exhibit.

Visitors are given iPods pre-loaded with these Soundscapes, as well as a map to play each one for its corresponding section of the museum. For example, as one of the Soundsuits incorporates bird imagery, the Soundscape for that section has the sound of birds chirping.

Faciane said that their recording process involved everything from eating carrots in front of a microphone to transforming silverware and fine china into percussion.

“Not all of the suits make noise but are meant to convey sound in a more symbolic way through their aesthetic vibrance, or stirring up strong visual and emotional reactions,” Heath said.

These sorts of reactions are what Cave is craving.

“My soundsuits, they are what they are. But my real work is using them as a vehicle for change. That’s what is the most important thing to me,” Cave said. “I’m interested in being able to go into communities and work between academia and community … where the community builds the performance. That is the ultimate goal for me. That’s what makes me the happiest.”

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