Community Unites for Epic Performance
AS IS by Nick Cave
Renowned performance artist Nick Cave is ready to deliver a message. Are you ready to listen?
On March 20 audiences will have the chance to learn about the stories of numerous volunteers, local artists and participants from four social service organizations in the nine-block Shreveport Common neighborhood, all weaved together to create the production, AS IS by Nick Cave.
“I’ve named the show AS IS because it’s how I want neighbors to see neighbors — as is — to celebrate what makes each of us unique,” Cave said. “AS IS will be a visually stunning multimedia performance that transports audiences beyond the normal limits of entertainment into a spectacular world that will have you asking, ‘What just happened right in front of me?’ This spectacle of social consciousness is designed to transform the audience and I hope prompt them to ask, ‘How can we not accept each other ‘AS IS’?”
Cave is most recognizable covered up — whether under a sculpture of brightly colored flowers on CeeLo Green’s most recent album cover or in the galleries of the Smithsonian, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, or Crystal Bridges Museum. But for his most recent project in Shreveport, Cave has chosen work that is much more revealing.
During Cave’s eight-month artist residency with Shreveport Regional Arts Council (SRAC), he has primarily partnered with those impacted by AIDS, homelessness, poverty and abuse. This project will come to a finale this month with a world premiere performance that includes local singer Brenda Wimberly, spoken word artist PoeticX, an original score by local musician Michael Futreal, digital animation by John Durbin and a special guest appearance by “Bounce Queen” Big Freedia.
Since August, Shreveport has been getting to know soundsuit artist Nick Cave —in raffia soundsuits rustling along the Mardi Gras parade routes, creating elaborately beaded blankets alongside the residents at Providence House, VOA LightHouse, VOA McAdoo and Mercy Center, and dancing with students at Northwestern State University and the Inter City Row Dance Company.
“When I was invited to come here and do this project, I think why I chose to accept it was that I was very interested in the public service component of the project. That’s really a very important part of my work as an artist — the civic responsibility,” Cave said. “I’m interested in ways to intersect art as diplomacy, art that unifies communities in some form. I was interested in the fact that there are these artists in residency that are sort of operating within these organizations and to see art as a means of expression, meaning it becomes an operation where people can come together collectively and have a place to communicate and a voice in the making process.”
Soundsuits are wearable sculptures that Cave creates to “hide the human and expose the inner message of social consciousness.” Cave estimates that he’s created around 500 soundsuits in his career. They are colorful, noisy and are mostly comprised of materials repurposed from thrift stores and road-side finds.
Cave developed the soundsuit in the early 1990s following the Rodney King beating in Los Angeles. According to Cave, he was struggling with his identity and the idea of racial profiling, and while walking in a Chicago park, a twig caught his attention.
“That twig, to me, was something that was dismissed, discarded. But at that moment I started to gather and collect all these twigs. And then I went home and I built this sculpture,” he said. “I didn’t even know that I could put it on, and then I realized at the end that I could actually wear this thing, and when I put it on it made sound.”
Wearing his newly designed sculpture, Cave began to move, and as he moved he started to think about the role of protesting and how in order to be heard, you have to speak louder.
“It just started to accumulate all these meanings and reasons why this object sort of had so much language and so many reference points that I really was shocked. On one hand, my god this thing looks threatening. On the body, you’re like what is it?,” he said. “It’s unfamiliar; fear is there, yet we’re drawn to fear at the same time. When you’re in a soundsuit, gender, race, class is removed so you’re forced to look at the work without judgment.”
Cave’s soundsuits were a hit in the art world but the popularity of his artwork grew so rapidly it resulted in Cave packing up his soundsuits and tucking them away. For the next 15 years Cave explored other art mediums and even opened a clothing store. But the soundsuits kept calling to him.
“I didn’t have a choice. I could no longer hold the lid down. It was bursting. I had to face the truth,” Cave said. “I woke up one morning and something told me it was now or never so I just had to stand in the light and accept that this is my life. I must figure out how to design it based on knowing that this is how I’m supposed to exist and live in the world.”
SRAC Executive Director Pam Atchison said one reason the Council was founded was for outreach inclusion and that many of the resident artists have already been working with members of the Shreveport Common community through its Pay It Forward program. Artists who wish to utilize space in Central ARTSTATION, such as renting a room or the blackbox theatre, can either pay for those services or pay it forward in the neighborhood. But the last eight months has taken SRAC in a different direction. Rather than art outreach, it’s been more about art inclusion.
“I don’t want it to seem as if it’s the first time we’ve done an art outreach but I think it’s the first time anyone has done an art inclusion,” she said. “There’s such a difference between an art outreach and an inclusion. We hope that the by-product of him being here eight months is that he’s left an indelible mark on how the neighbors see themselves, first of all, and that they’ve been heard, that they’re a part of this theatrical production, that they find their inner creative self.”
The full AS IS message is yet to be unveiled, but when Cave delivers it on March 20 at the Municipal Auditorium, Shreveport will hear it — in all of its loud and colorful beauty.
IF YOU GO
What: AS IS by Nick Cave
When: 2:30 p.m. March 20
Where: Shreveport Municipal Auditorium