[Written by Katy Green]
[Image Credits: Isabelle Hunt-Deol]
Content Warning: Discussion of racist imagery.
Until by Nick Cave was a stunningly beautiful, and at times shocking, exhibition of an enormous scale. Nick Cave is a fiercely political artist whose work often centres on the impact of racism in the United States of America, and this is his first work to appear in Europe. Until broke the mould in the traditional sense, by favouring the use of found objects for his sculptures over more traditional materials such as clay or iron, but also thematically through the tone and impact of the piece. Although upon initial viewing Until can appear whimsical and dreamlike in its presentation, it’s not until the viewer is drawn closer into the intricacies and details of sculptures that Cave’s message is conveyed: the personal impact of racism in America.
Until can best be described as a sensory overload. From the minute you walked into the space, you’re bombarded with light, colour, and music combined to create a cacophonic, yet oddly comforting experience for your senses. When you first walk into Until it is easy to feel stunned in awe at the sheer scale of the exhibition set inside a considerably large space within Tramway. Even before entering the exhibition, you heard the unmistakable sound of a brass band covering We Got the Funk by Positive Force. Turning the corner into the exhibition itself, the room was decked floor to ceiling with hanging windspinners in a kaleidoscope of colours, turning in the breeze. The effect of these was immense; participants immediately stopped in their tracks to take in the movement and colours of the display before continuing walking around the exhibition. Looking out towards the walls of the exhibit, there were colours, words and shapes crafted out of beads, typically used for braiding hair, and shoelaces. The time and effort that went into creating the sculptures is remarkable; the exhibition programme states that it took over 18 months to complete.
The most striking component of Until was perhaps the sense of community bonding present within the exhibition. On the particular day I visited, the exhibition was fairly crowded, with a mix of different ages, races, and abilities. The children seemed to be mesmerised by the grandiosity of the hanging ornament display, as well as charmed by the physical feeling of the brass instruments reverberating through the balloons. Until was an undeniably physical experience, inviting participants to feel swept up in the playful, energetic environment. You are invited to be close to the musicians, put your ear against the big red ball, and climb up the ladders. It is only once you have settled into the exhibition, moving past the initial shock and wonder of its presence, that you can notice the critiques on racism, subtly hidden beneath a layer of kitsch decor.
The centrepiece was the Crystal Cloudscape, a large garden of assorted kitschy items, such as wind chimes, garden gnomes, decorative owls and anything else you would associate with outdated decor. The Crystal Cloudscape was also home to seventeen lawn jockeys, or ‘Jockos’, racist cast-iron figurines which harken back to the Jim Crow era of the American South. Nick Cave calls into question the relationship we have with our past, and asks how racism has shifted, yet remained, in a post-Jim Crow era.
Until created the sense of wonder and community that cannot be captured through photographs or videos. Cave’s use of found objects is an effective way of grappling with the complexities of racism, as it challenges what is generally considered as ‘art’ and allows the viewer to become swept up in the ephemeral quality of the sculptures, before they are invited to confront their preconceptions on race and racism.