Artist Nick Cave brings his ‘soundsuit’ art to Shreveport with the community project As Is
Mark Lowry | Contributing Writer
SHREVEPORT — Artist Nick Cave discovered his first “soundsuit” when, in response to the Rodney King beating, he made something out of twigs that he thought was sculpture — until he put it on and realized it made noise.
In the 20 years since, the self-dubbed “trans-artist” — meaning his art combines sculpture, installation, performance, video, fashion and designed objects — has become a sensation in the performance art installation world, with exhibits and performances at some of the world’s most prestigious museums and galleries and universities. In 2012, the Dallas/Fort Worth area had a glimpse of his work when his installation “Heard,” with equine-shaped soundsuit creations, was performed at the University of North Texas, where he did some post-graduate work in the 1980s. (It has also been performed in other locations.)
That original response to King has always fueled the social and political facet of his work, demonstrated with what might be one of his boldest creations to date: As Is, a community project nearly a year in the making in Shreveport, La., and culminating with an immersive performance at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, March 20, in Shreveport’s Municipal Auditorium (the building where the phrase “Elvis has left the building” was coined).
The event incorporates some original soundsuits, some designed from raffia (his signature material) and others made with beads of bamboo and various other materials. It boasts a range of Shreveport dancers, musicians and artists, including opera soprano Brenda Wimberly.
Also making an appearance, in the final section of the 50-minute immersive work, is New Orleans “queen of bounce” Big Freedia, who has become famous as the voice heard at the beginning of Béyonce’s controversial video Formation (“What happened after New Orleans… .”)
“The thing that was interesting about this project was working within the community,” says Cave, speaking in an interview with his partner, collaborator and business manager Bob Faust. “It was the social service organizations that brought me here. It was a different kind of connection and outreach rather than working with kids and schools. It was really tapping into a different kind of circumstance, and I felt responsible to act.”
The project to which he refers is the revitalization of a nine-block area of downtown called the Shreveport Common. It includes Municipal Auditorium, historic Oakland Cemetery, an Asian Garden kept up by the city’s Cambodian, Japanese and other Asian communities, and the offices of Shreveport Regional Arts Council handsomely refurbished from an old firehouse that houses offices for SRAC and other organizations and maker spaces.
The Common also has Providence House, an outreach for homeless families, as well as other social services. There are plans to form a farmer’s market, residential and mixed-use buildings and artists’ live/work spaces.
The theme for As Is is inclusion and tolerance.
“To me it’s about transformation; you’re no longer the same mindset that you use to be,” says vocalist Wimberly. “In the suits you’re invisible.”
Luther Cox, Jr., who runs Inner City Row Modern Dance Company, is the choreographer for the project. “It has shown that aspect of life which says we all have something in common if we stop trying to make everybody different,” he noted.
In one section of As Is, bluegrass and folk music come together with tribal percussion. Instrument make Michael Futreal, the composer for the folk section, says, “I think bringing this multiplicity of voices together increases this sense of community, but also the threads of creativity we all have, because we have multiple dance styles and types of music. It makes us all richer.”
To Big Freedia, As Is is an event that’s not so different from her own shows. “That’s what Freedia show consists of, of all walks of life, and people being able to express who they are, because I bring all of those dynamics to all of those situations.
Cave, who once trained with Alvin Ailey and is chairman of the Fashion Department of the Art Institute of Chicago, isn’t so quick to try and explain what the performance means. “I don’t want it to be defined,” he says. “We’re never complete. We’re always a work in progress.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 18, 2016.