My visit to Nashville in December brought me to the Frist Center for the Visual Arts for the first time since its opening in April of 2001. If you’re unfamiliar, the Frist Center inhabits one of Nashville’s historic landmarks,  the former main post office built in the early 1930’s. The building is a quite striking example of neo- classicist and Art Deco styles— formidable, neat, striking and modest on its exterior—representing everything that neo- classicism offered during The Depression. Inside however, cast aluminum and colored marble and stone follow the more decorative Art Deco style. The building itself is a reason to visit the Frist.

The Frist’s intersectional architecture creates a beautiful setting for Nick Cave’s exhibition: Feat. Feat. was curated by Katie Delmez (Frist Center’s curator since its inception). The exhibition is divided into three galleries, with a very large decal mural placed within the hallway that introduces the remaining exhibition: expertly dividing what feels like the three textures of the exhibition, or three media platforms. The exhibition contains a runway of ten Soundsuits (2011–17), a gallery wrapped in twinkling Buttonwall fabric (2013), an immersive life-size video work Blot (2012), and Architectural Forest (2012) which has rarely been exhibited since its creation.

Architectural Forest (2011), is an immense installation measuring 136 inches x 180 inches x 336 inches and made entirely out of fishing wire and thousands of hand painted bamboo beads. The floor directly below the installation is painted a striking neon version of cadmium red. This creates an optical illusion that makes the beads above appear to hover, radiate, and scorch the floor beneath them. As a viewer you’re at once left with the urge to meditate, be still, and read the patterns derived from the beads (each measuring approximately 2 inches) and hurl your body into the beads in hopes of experiencing something similar to that of running through a wall. Alas, I compromised and simply stood as close to the work as possible and fanned the install— if you’re interested— Architectural Forest sounds like rain on a wood deck when fanned at the right speed. It’s lovely.

The next gallery holds three key pieces including Blot (2012),  Tondo (Untitled) (2008), Rescue (2014), and a stand alone Soundsuit (2014). The gallery was relatively large, so each work had a decent amount of space to itself, Blot taking up the largest wall between the three galleries housing the exhibition. The wall projection is about 45 minutes long, and so I unfortunately didn’t stay for its entirety, but it included a solitary dancer in a black, rather monolithic, Soundsuit within a completely white space void of any spatial references. Blots narrative of protest, poetry, and righteous anger was paired only with the slowed down audio of the suit as the dancer moved in calculated and exaggerated movements. The film’s audio eerily resembled that of the ocean— providing the audience with all of the audio / visual / illusory baggage that comes with their interaction with the ocean. Upon learning that the film was shot in 2012, the year of Trayvon Martin’s murder, you gain a feeling of overwhelming burden, disbelief, and sadness. This is a call to action. This is a call to awakening. Twenty years past, and the artist is still making as a response to the initial call for him to make; police brutality is still as prevalent an issue as it was when he created his first Soundsuit.

The third gallery houses ten Soundsuits, placed on an elevated runway in the center of a long, rectangular gallery. The gallery’s walls are covered from floor to ceiling in Buttonwall fabric (2013). The Buttonwall is immersive, transformative, and deep space-y with its padded blue-back fabric stitched with thousands of small pearlescent buttons. The gallery becomes otherworldly and multidimensional.  A space where the time constraints and current socio-political climate evaporate and everything is glitter, buttons, and the surreal—the suits are genderless, raceless, classless, and timeless. Nick Cave’s Soundsuits were conceptualized first in 1992, as a reaction to the beating of Rodney King. Cave collected a large number of sticks and twigs from the ground and fashioned them into a suit that made sound when worn. Created as a form of self-preservation and defense, the suits are both a monument to the United States’s problematic identity and its endless possibility for renewal and experimentation. Soundsuits are most often presented for public viewing as static sculptures, but also through live performance, video, and photographs.

I’ll admit, I was jaded at first. I was fortunate enough to see the Cincinnati Art Museum’s Meet Me at the Center of the Earth (2012), which was at the time the largest exhibition of Nick Cave’s work to date. Comparatively this exhibition felt small, which in retrospect definitely isn’t true—in addition to four sections of this exhibit, the Frist has worked with creative enterprises within the community to arrange for four different cultural events revolving around Nick Cave’s works, three of which are free.

Happening in NICK CAVE: FEAT., which is composed of local storytellers, musicians, and dancers for in-gallery performances that will respond to Cave’s works through imaginative artistic encounters— no two happenings will be the same. The Happening is curated by Michael McRay of Tenx9 Nashville Storytelling and Narrative 4. The January 26 happening featured a diverse lineup of Nashville storytellers, exploring themes of identity in Nick Cave: Feat. Positioned throughout the galleries, they will each tell a personal, true story in response to the prompt “I Am . . . ”. There have been three different performance dates, and is free with the cost of admission to the center. Then there are several sessions of Bead-a-thons at the Centennial Art Center (Nashville) in which locals can participate in assisting in the creation of beaded blankets for Nick Cave’s Blanket Statement as part of the performance of Nick Caves Feat. Nashville on April 6th (also free to the public). The Bead-a-thons work to “create artwork that ties together stories from diverse communities, helping to facilitate a dialogue”; in addition to assisting the artist and his team in creating the monumental works that will be displayed in April. Last but not least, the exhibit will be a part of the center’s ongoing “Making Memories” project in conjunction with the Mid South chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.

Nick Cave: FEAT. will be installed at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts until June 24th, 2018 in the Upper Level Galleries.

–Megan Bickel

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