CULTURE & ARTS

A Mesmerizing 'Soundsuit' Memorializes Trayvon Martin's Death

Outside Detroit, Nick Cave's "TM 13" memorializes the death of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed Florida teenager who was fatally shot three years ago.
Cranbrook-mosphere, Nick Cave-mosphere
Cranbrook-mosphere, Nick Cave-mosphere

Behind what appears to be a beaded net stained the color of Skittles stands a hollow figure, made distinct by the hint of a sneaker sticking out from under the obscurity. Pan up from the shoe and there's a glimpse of a hooded sweatshirt topping off the towering statue, an unmistakeable bit of clothing loaded with meaning.

Titled "TM 13," the work -- shown above -- memorializes the death of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed Florida teenager who was fatally shot by former neighborhood watch leader George Zimmerman three years ago. Created by Missouri-born artist Nick Cave, the piece is currently on view at the Cranbrook Art Museum, located just outside of Detroit, Mich. 

The sculpture echoes the artist's first "Soundsuit," a wearable work of art made in 1992 after the brutal beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles. Composed of a sheath of twigs that rustled as the wearer moved, Cave imagined the piece in a state of confusion over a tragedy that would spark riots across L.A. Decades later, and nearly 500 soundsuits since, Cave -- like much of the nation -- is again confused in the wake of the deaths of Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray and the mass shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.  

"The underlying history of my work has [addressed] the political realms of black identity," Cave said in a phone interview with The Huffington Post. "This is me now looking and responding to the state of affairs. Now we can talk about Charleston and the ongoing concern around race and identity and profiling today."

Nick Cave-mosphere, Cranbrook-mosphere
Nick Cave-mosphere, Cranbrook-mosphere

"TM 13," like many of the other suits -- not to mention tapestries and video works presented as part of the larger exhibition "Here Hear" -- beckons viewers to imagine what it would be like to don the empty shell. How would it feel to step inside the behemoth sculpture and peer out from beneath the very same rainbow-hued trap? The show's homonymous title itself hints at more than a passive audience. "It's like I'm calling court," Cave explained. "Gathering people around and isolating their attention."

Beyond the works on view at Cranbrook, Cave's own alma mater, the artist is staging a series of interventions around Detroit, including dance labs and performances meant to further gather people together in the name of art. Cave describes the city he once called his home-away-from-home (Cranbrook provided him with "intellect," while Detroit gave him "soul," he clarified) as vibrant and alive, but notably different from when he last attended school in 1989. 

Gabriel Brass Band-mosphere, Here Hear-mosphere
Gabriel Brass Band-mosphere, Here Hear-mosphere

"This time around, there's a stronger sense of investment of individuals [in the city]," he noted. "A lot of creative individuals coming in, locating neighborhoods they want to change, coming together to reinforce the community. There's a sense of urgency about it. We're all reintroducing Detroit back to Detroit."

He likened contemporary Detroit to a forest. A forest, he said, can burn down, but after that fire, little green growths endure, peeking out from behind the ash. Of course, Detroit's fire took the form of bankruptcy in 2013. But little by little, Cave is noticing a rebirth. "The green [in Detroit] is that real," he said, crediting the city's noticeable rejuvenation to an explosion of little growths like restaurants and art endeavors. "Almost florescent."

In fact, Cave is full of comparisons. While Detroit is a forest, his show, he says, is like a collective dream. As a kid, Cave and his six brothers would lay on the grounds of their farm, looking up at the sky and identifying star patterns, letting their minds drift into an imaginative state. "Here Hear" aims to bring Detroit and its surrounding areas into one shared imagination, 

"I'm always looking for individuals to engage in an exhibition. I’m trying alternative ways of talking about hard issues us as Americans are dealing with and struggling with," Cave concluded. "I’m hopefully acting as the change agent, finding a way to infiltrate a city and... talk as a collective about what’s going on in the world."

"Nick Cave: Here Hear" is on view at Cranbrook Art Museum from June 20 to October 11, 2015. All photos: Sam Deitch/BFA.com. Courtesy of Cranbrook Art Museum.

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Installation view of <em>Nick Cave: Here Hear.&nbsp;</em>
    Courtesy of the artist and Cranbrook Art Museum
    Installation view of Nick Cave: Here Hear. 
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Dancers from Sidewalk Detroit perform in Nick Cave&rsquo;s Soundsuits at The Artist Village.
    Courtesy of the artist and Cranbrook Art Museum
    Dancers from Sidewalk Detroit perform in Nick Cave’s Soundsuits at The Artist Village.
  •    <span>Installation view of <em>Nick Cave: Here Hear&nbsp;</em></span>
    Courtesy of the artist and Cranbrook Art Museum
    Installation view of Nick Cave: Here Hear 
  • Nick Cave
    Courtesy of the artist and Cranbrook Art Museum
    Nick Cave
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View of the &lsquo;Map in Action&rsquo; Room
    Courtesy of the artist and Cranbrook Art Museum
    View of the ‘Map in Action’ Room
  •     
Dancers from Sidewalk Detroit perform in Nick Cave&rsquo;s Soundsuits at The Artist Village.
    Courtesy of the artist and Cranbrook Art Museum
    Dancers from Sidewalk Detroit perform in Nick Cave’s Soundsuits at The Artist Village.
  •     
Installation view of <em>Nick Cave: Here Hear </em>
    Courtesy of the artist and Cranbrook Art Museum
    Installation view of Nick Cave: Here Hear
  •     
View of the &lsquo;Map in Action&rsquo; Room
    Courtesy of the artist and Cranbrook Art Museum
    View of the ‘Map in Action’ Room
  •     
The Gabriel Brass Band performing with dancers from Sidewalk Detroit in Cave&rsquo;s Soundsuits
    Courtesy of the artist and Cranbrook Art Museum
    The Gabriel Brass Band performing with dancers from Sidewalk Detroit in Cave’s Soundsuits
  •     
View of the &lsquo;Map in Action&rsquo; Room
    Courtesy of the artist and Cranbrook Art Museum
    View of the ‘Map in Action’ Room
  •     
The Gabriel Brass Band performing with dancers from Sidewalk Detroit in Cave&rsquo;s Soundsuits
    Courtesy of the artist and Cranbrook Art Museum
    The Gabriel Brass Band performing with dancers from Sidewalk Detroit in Cave’s Soundsuits
  • Nick Cave
    Courtesy of the artist and Cranbrook Art Museum
    Nick Cave
  •     
The Gabriel Brass Band performing with dancers from Sidewalk Detroit in Cave&rsquo;s Soundsuits
    Courtesy of the artist and Cranbrook Art Museum
    The Gabriel Brass Band performing with dancers from Sidewalk Detroit in Cave’s Soundsuits
  •     
The Gabriel Brass Band performing with dancers from Sidewalk Detroit in Cave&rsquo;s Soundsuits
    Courtesy of the artist and Cranbrook Art Museum
    The Gabriel Brass Band performing with dancers from Sidewalk Detroit in Cave’s Soundsuits
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