Ruffin Gallery makes space for Nick Cave’s 'Spot On'

Distinguished artist-in-residence Nick Cave brings visionary performance-art videos to Ruffin Gallery in the opening of his exhibit “Spot On”

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Artist Nick Cave's work involves the use of elaborate costumes known as "Soundsuits."

Kalista Diamantopoulos | Cavalier Daily

Dancing bodies in “Soundsuits” graced the walls of the Ruffin Gallery during the Feb. 28 opening of “Spot On” — a video-performance art exhibit by artist-in-residence Nick Cave, hosted by the McIntire Department of Art. University students and faculty gathered in the space to view the captivating performance videos on display — titled “Blot,” “Gestalt” and “Bunny Boy.”

The first piece, “Blot,” consisted of a mirrored image of a body cloaked in a black, shaggy garment called a “Soundsuit” set against a bright white background. The body moved and flowed on the screen, creating shapes reminiscent of a perpetually changing inkblot. For Cave, “Blot” is his way of rethinking the idea of drawing.

“I sort of generate new shapes and ideas through that particular video,” Cave said. “I wanted it to be more about this sort of morphing of one form as it reshapes and redefines itself.”

During the performance, there were moments of the paper-white colored feet and face of the body emerging from the cascading shag, before disappearing again in the tangled mass. As the body twisted and shifted, the garment itself created a sound almost as mesmerizing as the sight of the mutating shapes.

“The sound is fabulous,” Cave said. “It almost sounds like the ocean, and it is coming from the synthetic fabric.”

Creating sound through the materials of the Soundsuits is a recurring theme in Cave’s work, which appeared again in the second video performance displayed at the gallery — “Gestalt.” The video showed a white studio with four dancers, who entered one by one clothed in Cave’s iconic Soundsuits. This time the suits were highly ornate, adorned with countless pearlescent buttons. The first dancer was dressed in a Soundsuit with all-white buttons and a clear washboard with an attached hood to cover the face. The second and third dancers had similar head contraptions — but with abacuses instead of washboards covering their faces. The fourth dancer’s costume was completely different from the others — made up of patterned buttons and a head piece that looked like a pope’s hat. 

The dancers swayed and stumbled around, grappling at their headpieces in an unsettling manner, as if they were trapped and wanted to escape. The video was able to affect its viewers, who softly giggled under their breath in response to the comical display of one of the dancers playing with the abacus of the other dancer. However, this playful display became more and more aggressive as they began dragging each other around the studio by the feet — causing buttons to come undone from the Soundsuits and fall on the ground. 

According to Cave, the performance “comes out of this place of bullying and how we sort of alarm one another in terms of bringing awareness to that.”

The final video was “Bunny Boy,” displayed on a screen at the end of a wooden hallway set in the middle of the gallery. “Bunny Boy” featured a dancer dressed in a bunny suit made of hot pink fur. The suit was open in the front to reveal the dancer’s toned chest and torso. Bunny Boy moved around the small space, patting the floor with the long fur extending from his pink paws. Viewers excitedly ventured down the dark hallway until they were frightened by the dark silhouette of Bunny Boy that began to eerily inch closer and closer towards them. The piece was created to comment on how “we live in the world in this sort of space of isolation,” Cave said.

“When you're in [this space of isolation], and there's no people in there, you will be amazed that [Bunny Boy] actually lives underground, and you'll hear the cars going by, or an ambulance going by or kids running on the ground.” Cave said. “He's just sort of disconnected but is trying to find a way to sort of relate be a part of a bigger universe.”

While the works at Ruffin Gallery were all video performances, Cave also creates live performances. He does not have his own dance company but rather utilizes local talent from the cities where he executes his projects, striving to “affect a community and leave an imprint.”

Cave is set to leave his mark at the University as well — hosting workshops that will culminate in a performance series by five groups of five artists to be presented on Grounds. The given prompt is “2020.” 

“It will be a destination sort of experience. So that's going to be interesting to move around the campus and just see how they're looking at space, how they're willing to utilize space, how they're invading space,” Cave said. “I don't know what that's going to be.”

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