Stepping into Until at Carriageworks is like stepping into a multicoloured dreamland. With the whimsical wind spinners, the glimmering Crystal Cloud and the lofty ceilings of Carriageworks, stepping through the front doors seems to transport you to another world. Everything is beautiful; a burst of colour against the tramshed backdrop.
Until you look closer.
At the centre of the seemingly benign wind spinners are motifs of guns, tears and bullets. Scattered among the lawn ornaments atop the crystal cloud are cruel, caricaturish, Jim Crow era black lawn jockeys. A beautiful cast bronze hand, modelled off the artist himself and wreathed in beaded flowers, is positioned as though to hold a handgun.
“What appears to be beautiful, may not be beautiful,” artist Nick Cave explained. “But it is beautiful,” he added with a wry smile.
The familiarity of the objects - like wind spinners and lawn jockeys - reflects how “we tend to exist in the world in a bubble, in our own problems, yet all of these huge issues are right in our own backyards,” Cave explained. “I’m a messenger first, artist second.”
Cave brings a message that is certainly specific to the particular political context of the United States of America, but as Carriageworks’ Head Curator of Visual Arts Beatrice Gralton explained, its one that Australian audiences can still connect with: “We wanted … to create a space for communities, school groups and organisations to come together, and to know they’re in a safe space where they can talk about issues they may not be able to discuss elsewhere.”
In Until, Cave has created a cathartic experience in which he and audience members can reflect on and share their pain, sorrow and hope.
Missouri-born Cave finds inspiration for his pieces within tragedy. When the 1992 Los Angeles riots were sparked by the beating of Rodney King, Cave created his first soundsuit: a full-body, wearable sculpture using visual and aural art as a form of protection, obscuring the wearer from judgment on the basis of race, sex, sexuality, age or class. In the age of the Black Lives Matter movement, sparked by the killings of African Americans including Trayvon Martin, Freddie Grey, Eric Garner and Sandra Bland, and whose street protests began in Cave’s home state, Cave began to create Until.
Playing on the phrase “innocent until proven guilty” - or perhaps, more aptly, “guilty until proven innocent” - the exhibition consists of seven works which guide audiences through the question that Cave has asked himself during the creation process: is there racism in Heaven?
Cave’s answer? “I’m not sure,” he said honestly. “I don’t even know if I believe there is a Heaven. But incidents like the Michael Brown shooting (which led to the 2014 Ferguson, Missouri protests) triggered this thought; and the form, vastness and weight of it all.”
Form, vastness and weight are certainly the concepts brought to mind when viewing Until. With its airy, high ceilings, sparse, industrial features and wide, open-plan spaces, Carriageworks allows for the size of Until to be fully realised. Over 16,000 wind spinners make up Kinetic Spinner Forest; Crystal Cloud weighs 6.4 tonnes; and Beaded Cliff Wall took Cave and 12 assistants 18 months to create.
Cave’s works are immersive and experiential, allowing audiences to take their time to form their own opinions on such deep concepts. Hy-Dyve is a 14-channel video installation with an eclectic, chaotic soundscape and site-specific floor projection of a churning ocean in Sydney’s Little Bay. The projections depict a pastiche of close-up eyes that evoke a sense of surveillance, and give off a claustrophobic effect.
The Crystal Cloud is the centrepiece of the exhibition: it seems to hang effortlessly above the floor despite its mass and is surrounded by four staircases which allow it to be viewed up close. Above the chandelier-like base is a collection of eclectic ornaments and trinkets. As Gralton explained, the piece features Jocko style lawn jockeys, formerly a symbol of the Jim Crow era of lawful segregation in America, which are reappropriated and given new life: “Nick wanted to take these out of circulation but not deny them of their history. As a part of the Crystal Cloud they’re keepers of the landscape: instead of lanterns they hold dreamcatchers; and they remain the keepers of the story.”
This idea of regeneration is close to Cave’s heart as a creative: “it’s about shifting how we look at something and moving forward”.
Surrounding the Cloud is the Kinetic Spinner Forest, which is mesmerising to watch. The thousands of individual pieces twirl in the air and glimmer in the sunshine streaming through the skylights. Yet there’s a sinisterness to their beauty, the grim motifs of guns, tears and bullets reiterate the message of the danger and discrimination present in our own backyards.
Amid the pain, grief and fear, Cave’s work still carries a strong sense of hope: passing the Crystal Cloud and Kinetic Spinner Forest brings you to a room within which the Beaded Cliff Wall and Flow Blow are contained. The latter is a fan powered wall on which thousands of blue, silver and black party streamers flutter and ripple, with an immensely calming and cleansing effect. The Beaded Cliff Wall, meanwhile, takes up the remainder of the room: hundreds of thousands of pony beads strung on shoelaces which criss-cross the wall like a colourful map; occasionally spelling out words like “power” and “love” or forming rainbows and peace signs.
As a whole, Until exists as a safe space; one in which progressive voices are encouraged and the -isms are addressed. To facilitate this, the exhibition will play host to a range of other shows over its tenure in Carriageworks, including as a performance space for dance companies. “I thought to myself, how can I be a part of change? How can I create spaces in which to be heard?” Cave reflected.
“We want artists and communities to come and engage in the work and perhaps create new work from this, or just be in a space where they feel they can do whatever they want to do,” echoed Gralton.
Until at Carriageworks transfixes, mesmerises and astounds. It opens November 23, 2018 and runs until March 3, 2019. For more details, visit Carriageworks’ website: http://carriageworks.com.au/events/nick-cave-until-2018