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  • Jan 30, 2019

Nick Cave’ Until

Installation view of NICK CAVE’s "Until" at Carriageworks, Sydney, 2018

Nick Cave pulls no punches when it comes to dazzling an audience. In 2016, he presented Heard·Syd (2016), a vivacious stampede of dancers wearing horse-shaped iterations of his signature “sound suits”—conceived in the wake of the 1992 Los Angeles police beating of construction worker Rodney King—fashioned from brilliantly colored raffia. Accompanied by a percussion band, the boisterous procession swished through Sydney’s arts precinct Carriageworks and then Pitt Street Mall in the city’s Central Business District, whipping up triumphant and frenetic spectacles that had viewers tapping their feet. Two years later, Cave returned to Carriageworks for “Until,” which comprised six vast, immersive installations spread over several gallery spaces. Where Heard·Syd was an exuberant audio experience, “Until” was quiet, with just a single sound suit. Yet, the display was no less spectacular or trenchantly political. 

First shown in 2016 at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art—co-commissioners of the project along with Carriageworks and Missouri’s Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art—“Until” riffed off and inverted the phrase “innocent until proven guilty,” alluding to the parlous position that African-Americans find themselves in today. The genesis for the show was the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a white police officer in 2014, which led Cave to pose the question: Is there racism in heaven?

The centerpiece of the ambitious presentation was Crystal Cloudscape (2015–16), a visually overwhelming installation with thousands of sparkling chandelier crystals, hung mid-air in a cloud-like formation. Attached to the top of the floating light display and accessible via ladders was a bricolage of memorabilia bearing racist imagery, produced in the US and collected by Cave over a decade, including a family of gilded pigs, hundreds of ceramic birds, Christmas decorations, candelabras, soft toys, glass fruits and black-face lawn jockeys, which complete the ironic paean to American excess, and Cave’s tongue-in-cheek response to his own question: Yes.  

Surrounding Crystal Cloudscape were hundreds of suspended, spinning mobiles made from garden ornaments. Titled Kinetic Spinner Forest (2016), the installation appears like a dazzling fantasy land—one that is disrupted by discreet images of guns and bullets placed at the center of many of the components hung on the cables. Threading their way through this dense forest, visitors then encountered Flow/ Blow (2016)a fan-propelled wall installation of party streamers that serves to metaphorically cleanse and heal viewers who may have stepped inside from Australia’s sweltering temperatures, before entering an adjacent gallery where Beaded Cliff Wall (2015–16) was displayed. Ten monumental curtains strung together from shoelaces, plastic beads and industrial cargo netting were hung from floor to ceiling. The word, “Power,” spelled out with beads, references graffiti that Cave had seen from the window of a train, positing a simple, provocative message: power to the people.

Installation view of NICK CAVE’s Hy-Dyve, 2016, 14-channel video installation, dimensions variable, at "Until," Carriageworks, Sydney, 2018

The only sound suit in sight was actually depicted in an immersive video installation, 
Hy-Dyve (2016), where Cave cavorts across a series of projections, including one showing a swirling ocean. The gesture was his way of protecting himself, he said, from the sense of despair he felt in response to racially motivated gun violence and targeted surveillance.

The premise of “Until” was to create a safe haven and space of contemplation where people could reflect on the iniquity and evil of racism in a country where trigger-happy police forces target African-Americans. The show was also a memoriam for those who have died because of the color of their skin. That there are lessons to be learned by Australia, which labors with its own systemic racism and sees chilling litanies of Indigenous deaths in custody, is axiomatic.

Michael Young is a contributing editor of ArtAsiaPacific.

Nick CaveUntil” is on view at Carriageworks, Sydney, until March 3, 2019.

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