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Nick Cave: Massive Intensity

by Polly Ullrich

Left: Soundsuit, 1998. Wood, feathers, cotton, wire, paint, and afghan, 6 ft. tall. Right: Soundsuit, 2003. Cotton, socks, paint, dryer lint, ball, chain, sisal, human hair, and plastic, 6 ft. tall.

Nick Cave’s “Soundsuits” embody sculpture in motion. For the past decade, the Chicago-based artist, who has art degrees from the Kansas City Art Institute and Cranbrook Academy of Art, has operated on the boundaries of visual and performance art, but his work transcends artistic categories. Looking at Cave’s work is like experiencing a visual explosion of sound and movement—Cave himself says that he aims at communicating a sense of “massive intensity” in his art.

“I’m interested in exploring the moment, the pure second of encounter with an artwork,” Cave said recently in his studio. He was preparing for a comprehensive exhibition, “Nick Cave: Soundsuits,” that includes close to 40 Soundsuits and wall sculptures, with video and live performances using the Soundsuits. The show, awarded a $50,000 grant from the Joyce Foundation, opened this spring at the Chicago Cultural Center. It will close on July 9. Cave’s pursuit of the “unexpected, to make people shift gears, to shift the meaning of the day, the way an accident changes your life or the way you see the quick reflection of someone in a street window,” underlies his broader project—to explore the social consequences of human perception.

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