The first time I viewed Nick Cave’s work was at the Denver Art Museum in the fall of 2013. The show, “Sojourn,” featured perhaps Cave’s most well-known work: the Soundsuits. These large creations are built to envelope a person and turn them into something or someone else. They create protection and anonymity, but they are heavy and imposing – made of anything from sticks (as Cave’s first suit was) to stuffed animals or buttons. That show featured the suits on raised platforms so one could marvel at them walk around them. Then you entered a room where there were videos playing of the Soundsuits in action – people dancing in them, or moving frantically and seemingly without order. If you put on the accompanying headphones, you were assaulted with the sounds the suits made when they moved.
“Until”at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art was decidedly different. It is immediately apparent in the titles: Sojourn – a temporary stay; Until – also temporary, but suspended, waiting, liminal.
This apparent lack of definition continued in the experience of “Until.” Unlike “Sojourn,” this show was more immersive – truly an experience, not just a viewing. To see the work you had to get inside of it, unlike the Soundsuits at the DAM.
Viewers enter the space through sets of double doors and immediately see the warehouse-sized room that houses the installation. First there is color and light. Then there are questions: What are those things? What does it mean? As you step forward, down the stairs and onto the floor, onto the path between the hanging pieces, you are within the suspension, as though walking in a scene on pause. As you are in the space, you see that the hanging pieces are metal spinners – hundreds of them looking far more impressive than the usual one or two that one may see hanging over a patio. They move and rotate with the movement of air in the room, including the breath of the people that walk between them. Breath that moves the bullets and guns at the center of each spinner – making you a part of Cave’s consideration of violence and race. For a few minutes, as you wander along the path, you are covered and exposed. There is no real protection in there – unlike the full-body Soundsuits – yet from the outside it is difficult to distinguish viewers from the light and color and movement that makes up the rest of the sculpture. Cave puts you in the art, forcing you to see and pay attention, even if only so that you don’t step off the path, drawing attention to what you are able to see, both from between the gaps in the forest of spinners, and in the reflections of the metallic work itself.
Upon exiting the forest you come to the rest of the work: a raised garden that you have to climb a ladder to reach, underneath which hangs sparkling chandeliers; a huge, beaded net draped over half the room; a room with video projections of the Soundsuits layered and mixed so it becomes a kaleidoscope, and again you are inside of it, as the projections cover all the walls and the floor; and upstairs a wall of metallic, fringy, plastic being blown from behind by a fan – inviting you closer and closer.
Everything about this installation pulls you toward it and forces you to exist within it if you want to see the entire show. You become a part of the spinners until you climb up to the garden until you are caught within the net until you are off-balance among the videos until you come face-to-fringe until you look out over the show and witness it. Until you leave. Until it finally gets out of your head. Until a few years from now when Cave’s work will certainly resurface somewhere else for me.