Until opens with an immersive forest of metallic lawn spinners. While mesmerized by all of the fluttering ornaments, more sinister symbols – guns, bullets, teardrops – plainly show amid the shining suns, circles, and flowers. The guns spin madly – they point everywhere yet nowhere. An ominous whirring sound of fans across the building adds a thick layer of anxiety. A pair of girls takes a selfie – are they so spellbound by the shining and spinning that they don’t consider the guns?
Cave packages a weighty significance in a light and seductive material.
In the middle of this is an ivory stag figurine, almost hidden and easy to miss. At first I hadn’t given it much thought, but when a friend asked why it was there the metaphor became clear: an animal often hunted (now surrounded by guns), its nearly white color a hint at symbolic innocence, covered in glistening beads and sharing a visual decadence with the rest of the exhibition.
To see the top of the cloud, you must climb one of several sets of stairs, giving the space isolation from the ground level. Once atop surrounded by hundreds of found antique objects, one feels a part of a time offset from, yet very close to, our current reality.
Cave asks us to consider gun violence again with more spinners after descending from the cloud and its black face jockeys, this time setting them in context of recent shootings of young black men; I am acutely aware of the fact that not a single person in the gallery at the time is black. The show’s place in the context of a fairly homogenous part of the Northeast is unclear- one hopes it will incite conversation and openness, but I can’t help wondering what the effect would be in a city like Cave’s own Chicago.
A dark back room is grounded by a lifeguard’s chair, projected water rushing back and forth across the floor. The walls come to life in a surrounding video piece that transitions from a kaleidoscopic, scarlet red of anxiety to the wave-like motions of one of Cave’s raffia soundsuits.
The stairwell at the back has a rainbow splashed across the wall, reflected off a CD-ROM – a nice moment of respite from the sensory overload of the rest of the show, and perhaps a nod to the biblical Noah’s post-flood rainbow and sign of hope.
In the last part, metallic streamers in blue, black, and white create a wall-like waterfall spelling “FLOW” – a vastly different water from the drowning sensation of the video. Fans keep the streamers moving and provide what feels like a breath of fresh air after working through the heavy content of the exhibition – this seems to be the part of the show that people refer to when describing this as an optimistic exhibition.
From here, viewers must return back through the dark video room and field of dazzling but disconcerting spinners.
The waterfall may be a cleansing metaphor, but the artist does not let you leave weightless.
No part of the show feels lacking – it is densely filled and overwhelming in its layered materials and meanings. The title, Until – a word that alone feels an incomplete fragment trailing off, here references “innocent until proven guilty,” or its implied reversal. Cave puts forth many questions, and the artist himself has expressed a desire to spur viewers to thought, discussion, and action. See it for yourself if at all possible, but please, skip the selfie.
For more information on Nick Cave and his diverse body of work, click here.
Artist. Art Teacher. Smallbany Gallery.
© Katherine Chwazik 2020, All Rights Reserved