Movement of Heart, Art and Body: Nick Cave and His Soundsuits

Unlike his Australian rocker namesake, Chicago artist Nick Cave touches not through the macabre and brooding, but via humorous creations so vivid one can barely move away.

To quote Cave himself, his works lend themselves so well to the kinder angels of human nature, people can’t help but laugh contentedly when coming face to face with them, which applies to the artist as well.

Cave’s background is in dance and design, both finding their way firmly into his mainstay project, the amazing soundsuits currently on display at the Chicago Cultural Center. One of the better-natured multimedia performances available today, Instruments of Movement draws on dance, gut-wrenching emotion, color and straight-up endearing goofiness to deliver memorable content of the tallest order.

The exhibit runs till July 9, showcasing a few dozen pieces belonging in the soundsuit collection as fabricated by Cave and his team of interns. These are known as such for the various aural effects they produce when moved, owing to being comprised of distinct sound-making parts.

Even when merely looking at still shots of the suits, they immediately give off a positive vibe. Essentially elaborate costumes designed to be worn “on the body”, the soundsuits use an eclectic plethora of materials and props, from birdcages and bottle caps to vintage carnival masks and chicken wire, utilizing parts both made by Cave from scratch and found during his tireless journey and flea market expeditions.

When talking to audiences, Cave professes his enjoyment of the low-key rather than the maximum-volume end of the spectrum. His studio beckons as a safe refuge for him and his crew to work and take their time with each piece.
This shows: you can clearly tell suits are meticulously done with a patient tranquility only apparent in those artists where talent doesn’t automatically translate into screaming vanity. Cave’s subdued, modest demeanor belies his mastery of this art, and the suits likewise beguile those who think they’re too heavy or elaborate to be of use.

Working with choreographer James Morrow, Cave assembled a dance troupe performing together over a year now. In conversations, the chemistry shared among them boosts interaction, resulting not only in flowing verbosity, but more so in performances combining dance and costume design effortlessly, reaching out with evocative impact and candid humor, but none of the pomp often anchored in the avant garde.

Engagements at the Cultural Center put forth a short, albeit very powerful, dance sequence using only several of the suits, set to effective funk and techno music. Mostly the presentation follows a lighthearted theme, with dancers gyrating in a fashion somewhat harking back to the heyday of b-boy (breakdancing) street performances. Morrow himself cut his teeth as a genre aficionado, and brings much of those experiences to this contemporary show. At the same time, Instruments of Movement doesn’t apply any specific dance style, fusing instead a more casual collage of influences while never insisting on artificial polish. It may even be argued dancers make no attempt to maintain utmost professionalism, opting for a more open form emphasizing fun over detail.

But don’t misjudge these guys, they deploy tear-jerking punch just as affably as tongue-in-cheek slapstick, rendering scenes of pure sadness and vulnerability that have viewers weeping with blessed regularity. One skit in particular embodies this tender streak, telling bottom-of-their-hearts human frailty tales over the course of mere minutes and without the benefit of vocalization, relying entirely on clear body language, skillful performers and emotive music.

For impressive dance and storytelling in themselves Instruments of Movement would have been a must-see show, but then lest we neglect to stress again just how uniquely innovative the soundsuits are. Each represents the goodness of creative entrepreneurship with so flamboyant a taste and an imagination, there can be no missing out on beholding the reassurance that art of this ilk is still being made today.

For you soul’s wellbeing, make for the Chicago Cultural Center and relive the fine arts at their finest.

Nick Cave’s Soundsuits runs to July 9

Chicago Cultural Center:
78 E Washington
TEL: 312-744-6630

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