Nick Cave’s Twenty-First Century Quilting Bee

Featured photo: A beaded blanket created for use in Nick Cave’s upcoming AS IS performance. Photo used courtesy of Kathryn Usher.

About This Post: 20× asked local art lover Molly McCombs to contribute a series of guest blog posts documenting and exploring Nick Cave’s AS IS, a community-wide art project that will culminate in a March 20 performance at Shreveport Municipal Auditorium. This is the second post in a three-part series. Read Molly’s first post here.

Recently, I was lucky enough to tag along with Artist Nick Cave while he gave Louisiana Public Broadcasting’s Dorothy Kendrick a glimpse of his Shreveport work. We visited four social service organizations: Volunteers of America’s Lighthouse and McAdoo Center, Providence House and Mercy Center. Clients of these organizations who are interested can string beads and create beaded blankets. Cave conceived of beaded blankets as a contemporary take on the quilting bee, a project capable of bridging age, gender, and socioeconomic status—and creating community. Each organization has been assigned an artist or artists to guide the volunteers through the process. The blankets will be an aspect of AS IS, Cave’s March 20, 2016 performance at the Shreveport Municipal Auditorium.

It’s a heady mix. A well-known artist, local artists, administrators, parents, kids, and clients seated around tables or on couches talking, laughing, and beading. Each person infuses the work they do with their life experience. Some participate out of a competitive spirit, some because it’s a nice way to spend time with friends and/or make friends, some to forget their cares, and some so that they can be part of Cave’s work. The beauty of the process is that it operates on so many levels.

Artist Kathryn Usher compares creating the blankets to skydiving in the 1980s: “That was back before you had to tandem jump with an experienced diver. You were on your own to jump out of the plane, not slam into the strut, hit a good arch, keep oriented to where the ground was, open your chute, and fly it. Once you mastered the basics you could actually fly the air with your body before you had to pull the parachute. As the project progresses, I’m playing with beading techniques, experimenting with knot making, and weaving in unique materials like Mardi Gras beads, shredded wedding gowns, and up-cycled silk flower funeral arrangements.” Judging from their blankets, the artists assigned to the social service organizations—Jerry Davenport, Sherry Tamburo, Heather Beauvais, and Karen La Beau—are all having the same experience. They are progressing from simple assembly to Art.

A photo of Nick Cave
Artist Nick Cave speaks at a recent press conference in Shreveport. Photo: Chris Jay/Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau

Bead-a-thons offer the public the opportunity to participate in creating the blankets as well. Each blanket takes eighty hours to complete! Cave has been kind enough to display two of his studio’s blankets at Central Artstation in downtown Shreveport for inspiration. Even if you’re not interested in beading, it’s well worth a stop to look at these examples.

After being showcased in Cave’s live performance AS IS on March 20, the blankets will be exhibited at Artspace, subsequently installed throughout the Shreveport Common, and perhaps used to raise funds for the four participating social service organizations.

Of course, Cave’s show will feature more than these blankets. He’s best known for his Soundsuits, delightful head-to-toe sculptural costumes that disguise the wearer and heighten dance moves. His show will incorporate several such suits, dance, poetry, animation, and music—art directed by Cave, but mostly created by local artists.

Cave’s performance should be akin to the beaded blankets that he’s charged our community with making—more than a mere creation, a magic carpet ride. See you there!

RSVP to the Facebook event for Nick Cave’s AS IS performance on March 20, 2016.
Purchase tickets to AS IS.

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