By Laura Fenton
The art Nick Cave creates doesn’t solely hang on a wall collecting dust. His art boastfully
clangs, joyfully struts and vibrantly delights the eyes with a palette encompassing
every color imaginable.
Nick Cave visited the University of Memphis several times during the Memphis Heavyweight
workshop to meet with individual groups for brainstorming and project planning of
the “Soundsuits.” He helped participants understand how to work with different items,
such as tin cans, and craft the overall vision of the exhibit and a parade of the
work that was held on campus last month. (Photo by Rhonda Cosentino)
Cave, a Chicago-based artist and professor, guided budding artists from the University
of Memphis and the community through the collaborative creative process, which resulted
in an innovative exhibit at the Art Museum at the U of M (AMUM) titled Memphis Heavyweight.
“Heavyweight was sort of a nemesis which allowed each group to then interpret what
heavyweight means to them, which makes for an interesting body of work,” Cave said.
But Cave’s intention with this exhibit is to do more than have students examine a
topic – he wants to bring participants and the community together.
“We all entered this arena in spite of our differences, and we are here for one purpose,”
Cave said. “That’s what is so fascinating, to be able to come into it and to leave
yourself at the door and to be open for a collaborative kind of shift.”
Student groups from the U of M, Overton High School, Hutchison School, Natural Leaning
School and Art For Life’s Sake all spent more than a month creating “Soundsuits,”
which is Cave’s renowned inter-disciplinary art named for the sounds each suit makes
when it moves.
Other “Soundsuits” Cave created have items such as recycled materials, twigs, buttons,
toys, bottle caps, packaging, stray socks and potholders.
In addition to the pieces, students also created a float, which was part of a parade
in April to celebrate the culmination of the workshop and the beginning of the exhibit.
Several of artist Nick Cave’s “Soundsuit” creations shown on display during a parade
on the University of Memphis campus. (Photo by Rhonda Cosentino)
“This experience has been pretty interesting to combine everybody’s work together
to come up with something that is maybe more multi-layered than what us as individual
artists would have made,” said first-year U of M MFA student Jessica Lund. “At the
same time, although it is multi-layered, it ends up being really general and more
of a universal statement.”
Her group’s project, “The Grit,” is two over-sized megaphones with two people in bird
costumes squawking at each other. They also had a shot-putter, dancers and skateboarders
to introduce the project in the parade.
The other projects are “Danza Azteca Quetzalcoatl,” “Maize,” “Diaspora River,” “River
Dance,” “Champion Trees,” Rock’em Sock’em” and “Overton High School.”
AMUM director Leslie Luebbers, Scheidt-Hohenberg Chair of Excellence in Art History
Mikelle Smith Omari-Tunkara and the museum brought Nick Cave to the U of M thanks
to a $20,000 project budget from the Student Activities Fee committee.
Luebbers had followed Cave’s work since he introduced “Soundsuits” in 2009 and said
Cave is “an art world phenomenon.”
“Memphis Heavyweight” is an accessible theme for the groups, Luebbers said.
“I think the idea is that we all have so many burdens,” Luebbers said. “They can be
institutional, they can be political in any kind of political environment, they can
be economic, they can be related to tectonic issues or whatever. [Cave] talks a lot
about community and bringing people together to make beautiful things that are uplifting
and the process being uplifting. So, people have fun, people make beautiful things,
people entertain other people, and for at least a moment, those heavy things are lifted.”
The exhibit will be open from July through September at AMUM. Several “Soundsuits”
will be displayed as well as photos and video from the opening parade.
Luebbers has also considered closing the exhibit with another parade. Dates and times
have yet to be determined.
For more information about the exhibit and parade, visit www.memphis.edu/ccfa.
For a video on Nick Cave, visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PwupTQt9zxY