Sixteen thousand spinners hang in the narthex that is the Carriageworks foyer.
They shimmer, dispersing the light, casting shadows and patterns on the floor. It’s mesmerising. Its vastness envelopes. But it’s calming too, like sitting in a garden with a breeze blowing, mobiles swaying, chimes chinking.
The rows are ordered like a grid. The brain begins to make out the shapes: starburst … circle … concentric circles. Then: gun (!?) … bullet … tear-drop. The calm now replaced with a menacing. And in that subtle, personal moment of recognition, the exhibition’s message is transmitted and received.
This is Nick Cave’s Kinetic Spinner Forest, the first work you experience as you enter Until.
Until, is a meditation on racism, gun violence and power. The title references the phrase “innocent until proven guilty”, while the exhibition itself appropriates it, then inverts its meaning completely.
The imagery is driven by the deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin at the hands of police and a neighbourhood watch volunteer, respectively; their deaths, and the deaths of others in similar circumstances, also fuelling the Black Lives Matter movement in America.
Of course, you can’t help but draw parallels to the Australian context, to those news-making incidences of excessive violence perpetrated against Aboriginal men and women and people of colour by police and others in power.
Like the issues it highlights, Until is immense and deeply thought-provoking. But Cave’s offering and invitation to us to respond is also beautiful and hopeful.
The centre-piece of Until is Crystal Cloudscape, a monumental five-tonne sculpture that hangs above our heads. The crushing weight of it is a metaphor in itself. But it too is enthralling and impressive, made from ornate chandeliers and thousands of sparkling, hanging crystals. It is lit and bright, even in the daytime. We’re invited to visit again in the evening; the experience sure to be different then.
There are four sets of stairs, sturdy but a little steep, that you can make your way up to get a view of the cloud from above at different angles (You can also take the lift up to the viewing platform).
It’s a curious view from up there, a bricolage of seemingly random, discarded, everyday objects arranged aesthetically and with the most careful intention. If you take the time to scan the mass of wrought iron, ceramic, fabric and glass objects closely, there are more moments of jarring recognition here, too, when, for example, the eye lands on a ‘Jocko’ or lawn jockey.
Once a popular garden ornament in America, Jockos are now largely recognised as racist paraphernalia of a bygone era. They bring to mind those spear-carrying, loincloth-wearing black statues not uncommon in suburban Australian gardens of the 1980s. Cave has replaced the lantern his Jockos once carried with dream-catchers, offering us new hope in their evolution.
The most immersive part of Until is Hy-Dyve, a sound and video art piece. Take the time to sit through a whole cycle of the work. Fuzzy, dancing light patterns on the walls slowly take shape into discomfort. Footage recorded locally at Little Bay is projected onto the floor, waves washing in and out at your feet. And like the ocean, again here is that juxtaposition: calm/danger.
Cave’s Beaded Cliff Wall is yet another work of massive scale and wonder. Topographical in nature, it maps and documents the social and political features of the arena, rather than the physical. We’re encouraged to locate ourselves in this space, to find our voice and agency in it, to think about our own power. It’s a hopeful place.
It’s interesting but not surprising that Cave self-defines as a “messenger first and an artist second”.
He sees art as a vehicle for social change and describes the exhibition as “an elaborate community forum, as much as a work of sculpture”.
In this sense, the free public programs over the next three months are as much part of the exhibition as the sculptures and installations themselves, bringing the issues into a local, contemporary focus. And with artists like Mojo Juju and Lily Shearer participating in the Call and Response workshop, that focus promises to be sharp, stark and illuminating.
Until is activism as art, coaxing the viewer to think about the issues it casts light on and to question our own response to them, as individuals and collectively in our communities.
It really needs several visits to take it all in – the scale, the wonder and the weight of it. Go at different times of day. Go with different friends each time. I’m sure the conversations will be different each time but equally important.