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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Nick Cave and his Life-Affirming Soundsuits

This afternoon as I was waiting for my daughter's kindergarten classroom door to open, for her teacher to begin the daily ritual of calling out names and reuniting children with their families, the conversation turned to "those incredibly patient and reserved people on the brink of nuclear holocaust." A grand mom piped up "You know they're not showing us the worst of it on TV. They can't; it's just too much to bear." And we all nodded in agreement.

And then this other mom kept asking me for answers, wanting to understand what in those clouds of steam pluming out of those reactors, and which part or parts of the body it might effect.

So I told her about Strontium 90 being a bone-seeker, about how the people right by the plants shouldn't drink the milk of local cows, about the radioactive isotopes that have a fondness for the thyroid, but then it was too much to contemplate--the earthquake, the tsunami, the fuel rods leaking radiation, those heroic plant workers finally having to surrender--and I wasn't even sure I was much good at explaining why finding Cesium 137 in the atmosphere was particularly alarming; it felt like gossip, is what it felt like--talking trash about a friend, or like playing video games when you have work to do, haven't yet earned your reward.

And then I heard someone ask "But how long can a person stay sealed inside their home"? and I didn't know how to answer that, and anyway luckily it was rhetorical.

As I was standing there those minutes felt endless, and then my daughter and I were walking toward the light rail station, heading for the Seattle Art Museum, to Nick Cave's Meet Me at the Center of the Earth.

I expected to enjoy this show, but I didn't quite expect to feel elated, excited, humored, and inspired all at once. Cave's Soundsuits, crazy costumes made of florescent hair, woven-together stuffed animals, porcelain song birds, beads, toy tops, noise makers, lace doilies, mesh bags, tinsel, glitter, sequins, buttons and more buttons, are just about the wildest, fanciest, funniest, celebratory art pieces I've ever seen.

The best part about seeing this show at SAM is that you have to walk past a display of traditional ceremonial costumes and masks before you get to it. That way the whole dress-up-in-a-costume-and-fly-around-like-an-eagle thing is working in your head.

Dressing up as someone or something else and sorta going wild with it used to be a key part of being human. But somehow when we became so-called civilized and rational, we shed for the most part our need or desire to run with the myths and legends, with the gods. We've stopped honoring rites of passage, and we don't dance to ward off evil spirits, to be saved.

Sad, sad, sad.

Why have we stopped being human in this way? What is wrong with us?

The giant video footage of folks wearing Cave's costumes and dancing their asses off on endless loop made me realize how much I needed to, if not actually dance, watch a person in a pink furry get-up go native, go human, get on his or her dance, dance, dance.

We don't celebrate this way enough, we busy-bees, we nose-to-the-grindstone, all of us imagining the horror and anticipating that great radiation cloud heading east. It might be unfitting to dance right this minute, but somehow this Cave show engendered a great feeling of humanity in me, of our one-ness in the many, Fukushimian and Seattle-ite, Japanese and American, how we are all descended from the great dancers of yore.


Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks for introducing me to Nick Cave and his amazing art. It is sad that we've moved so far away from ceremony. Not sure how to get back to it, as it usually takes a community.

Martha Silano said...

You're welcome, Sandy. There's a theory that what was once ceremony is now artistic creation . . . or the Super Bowl.

Oliver de la Paz said...

I saw an ad for this today at the gym, Martha, and immediately I wanted to hop a train and see them! Are people actually in suits when you go see the display?

Martha Silano said...

Oliver -- they had an opening reception with a performance with dancers actually wearing the soundsuits; however, when you head to SAM all the soundsuits are placed on mannekins wearing the most wonderful array of wool tights. You can watch performers on giant wall videos, though. It was amazing!

Kathleen said...

Saw some of these (and the videos) at Chicago Cultural Center. Amazing.

Kathleen said...

And, as you say, the truth and horror of how the environment affects the food supply must be faced.