Nick Cave in Conversation

Scott Wallace
14th Nov 2014

On November 12, venerated arts venue Carriageworks announced their program for 2015. Guest speaker, New South Wales Deputy Premier Troy Grant promised that the new endeavours of Carriageworks would help Sydney to "get its mojo back" and while that seems like a bold claim, the kinds of art and performance that are to be featured at Carriageworks are equally as bold.

The 2015 program features sculpture, dance, music, video art, dramatic performances, and in some cases, combinations of many different artistic mediums. To kick off the next chapter in Carriageworks' efforts to bring the cutting edge and avant-garde to Sydney, they played host to an interview with acclaimed American artist Nick Cave (no, not that Nick Cave) who is here for the first time in Australia.

The event began with Cave's short film Gestalt, which was completed in 2012. The surreal and polarising film is a example of Cave's work with "sound suits," strange costumes of various shapes, designed to make as much noise as possible. Depending on your outlook, the feral movements and the chaotic sounds that emanated from the suits would be either enrapturing, or akin to torture. The suits rattled with each spasm, with the sound of metal on metal, metal on glass, the clacking of abacuses that covered the faces of two performers, and the heft of bodies against the minimalist set's unadorned walls.

With that otherworldly introduction, Cave was brought on stage, and took his place on stage where he conversed with Guardian art critic Andrew Frost. The pair discussed Cave's background in the fashion industry, and his current position as director of the graduate fashion program at School of the Art Institute Chicago. Cave urges his students toward an exploration not only of the artistic properties of garments, but how the body brings them to life and creates its own meaning.

The nature of Cave's enigmatic work was elucidated further when he described many of his strange pieces as "found objects." Indeed, the slide show behind the pair showed many suits featuring trademarked characters and other recognisable artefacts, as if Cave's work were a stew of everything around him. He explained the power of found objects through the example of a piece he made with abandoned gloves, each of them missing the other, which was inspired by the loss of his youngest brother.

Cave went on to explain his influences, not only in the realms of fashion and art, but in terms of music and pop culture. He mentioned jazz singer Shirley Horn as an influence, as well as the sci-fi funk of George Clinton and his Parliament-Funkadelic crew. Cave acknowledged the impact that African American discourse, particularly afro-futurism and hip-hop, and the underground ballroom and voguing culture of the LGBT community.

This became immediately apparent when the event ended with a second film, this one entitled Drive By. The video's fusion of dance and soft-sculpture, tied to runway ready beats, seems to be the perfect representation of where Cave's work exists - at the nexus of visual art, performance art and fashion. It's at the far end of the avant-garde spectrum and, as such, won't be to everyone's taste, but there's something delightful about seeing an intellect as out-there and individual as Cave's.

If this conversation with Nick Cave is anything to go by, Carriageworks is striving to continue to bring the most interesting and cutting-edge works that they can to Sydney. The venue is inclusive and fun, disproving the idea that "serious" art has to be stoic and stony. Whatever your reaction to the more unusual displays and performances at Carriageworks, they remain one of Sydney's best exhibition and performance spaces.

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