Layered Perspectives

Layered Perspectives

Artists respond to ‘Until’ with new works


From its inception, “Nick Cave: Until” was always intended to be a space of response, begins Pia Agrawal. Agrawal is the curator of performing arts at the Momentary, where Cave’s monumental exhibition opened in September.

The immersive exhibition builds a “fantastical, overwhelming” experience, the artist told What’s Up! ahead of the opening, through an astounding assemblage of materials wherein Cave explores the question, “Is there racism in heaven?” “Until” refers to the phrase “innocent until proven guilty” — or in this case, “guilty until proven innocent.”

In this all-encompassing sculptural landscape, the viewer is confronted from all sides with reflections on race, gender and gun violence in America. The point, Cave explained, was to set up a space for conversation — to force the viewer to think about these things happening in society and, hopefully, respond by contributing to the discourse surrounding them.

Other artists of differing media were also invited to further that conversation through their own work. At every institution where the exhibition has been displayed, creators from that community have responded to “Until” through dance, fashion, poetry, sound installations, music and more — just as Cave envisioned.

Prompted by a verse in the Bible, dance-theater artist Blake Worthey was already thinking about the idea of racism in heaven when he was invited to submit a piece to respond to Nick Cave’s work.
“There was this interesting sense of freedom that I don’t usually have when I perform,” Worthey says of his first performance of “Do You Know What You’re Doing Here?,” “and I think it came from the fact that I really cultivated my own voice in this process, and I know exactly what I’m trying to say with this performance.”
(Courtesy Photo/the Momentary)

“It’s kind of a beautiful position to put the artists in the same position that we and Nick are asking the visitors to be in,” Agrawal muses. “The beauty of contemporary art is that there are so many different means of interpretation, and there are so many things you can take away.”

The first of the regional artist responses at the Momentary debuted at the end of October with Adrienne Callander’s #littlesweaterhug performance/visual art piece. All of the artists spent time discussing the installation with Cave, and some of the resulting responses will be ongoing through the end of the exhibition period, while others will be a single performance or event.

“Some of these responses, specifically Adrienne’s response, really are about talking to people,” Agrawal shares. “That is what she’s doing; she’s in the galleries and she’s knitting, but while she’s knitting, she’s having a conversation with people. The cadence of that conversation is so informed by what people are carrying into the space when they come in that day. And I think that just speaks so well to contemporary art.”

“#littlesweaterhug started in April 2020 when covid had us experiencing deep isolation and a loss of contact, of literal touch,” Callander reflects. “I whimsically posted to Instagram asking if anyone needed a hug. I wrote, ‘I knit one for you.’ It turned out a lot of people needed one.”

It was a poetic gesture, really, she says — a time-consuming, hand-crafted, quirky response to an insane and disorienting moment. By early summer, the little sweaters felt woefully inadequate, so she put the project to the side. But when she was invited to bring the sweaters into “Until,” Callander started thinking about how the project could grow connection.

“It was collaborative to begin with,” she explains, “because it operated as a gift, as an act of offering and receiving. It does not exist without exchange.”

So, with the themes of reckoning and reconciliation on her mind, Callander decided to position herself on the Upper Mezzanine, overlooking Cave’s three-story hanging beaded work emblazoned with the word “POWER,” to talk with people about facing hard truths and forging a new fabric.

Some people who come through the show want to talk about racism, about peace, about conflict, about dreams deferred, she discloses. Others want to talk about knitting, about farming in South Dakota, about the passing of parents, the challenge of running a small business and paying a fair wage, the day John Lennon was killed.

To promote connection and collaboration, the sweaters in artist Adrienne Callander’s #littlesweaterhug project come on a hanger custom-made by Vincent Edwards Design and include a poem by Ronna Lebo titled “Reckoning and Reconciliation.” Proceeds from the sales will go to support the Open Mouth Reading Series Poet-in-Residence program in Mount Sequoyah’s Creative Spaces in Northwest Arkansas. Here, Callander embraces a sweater she made on site at the Momentary.
(File Photo/Charlie Kaijo)

“More than one person has wanted to talk about conversation itself,” Callander shares. “It all counts. It is all important. It is all connection.”

Blake Worthey, a dance-theater artist, also brought work to the galleries that began before his response to “Until.” Drawing from the Bible verse Matthew 6:10, “…on earth as it is in heaven,” Worthey reveals he was already working with the question, “Is there racism in heaven?” Starting from the same prompt, Worthey was excited to see his own work play inside of “Until.”

“As I continued to revisit the exhibit, I was trying to see what kinds of energies existed inside the work,” he recalls. “Eventually I arrived at the conclusion that in order to live well in this space, my work needed to share some of ‘Until’s’ qualities. Namely: the work needed to give off a feeling of fervor, and it cannot be just about suffering — it needed a way out of suffering into a new place.”

The resulting performance engages the audience with a new question: “Do You Know What You’re Doing Here?” The one-person show is a story about big things like good and evil, bigger and eviler things like fashion, but most importantly, it’s about how stories destroy us and save us.

“It is the only valid question I felt like I could make art from,” Worthey says of the title. “And hopefully the audience won’t just read that as a title to play, but a question they ask themselves at least once a day. From the performance, I want to give the audience an expanded definition of ‘here.’ So the question becomes, ‘Do you know what you’re doing here emotionally, spiritually, politically? Or are you lost?’”

Worthey’s performances took place in Gallery 2 on Oct. 31, Nov. 20, and the final one will be held Dec. 6.

The diversity in forms of expression among the artists responding to Cave’s work further speaks to the layers — physical, metaphorical, emotional — to Cave’s work, Agrawal says. Just as visitors can climb ladders and literally view “Until” from different angles, these artists’ responses can offer a new perspective through which to think about the work.

“These conversations, they’re being brought into the Momentary space and posed by Nick, but there are so many different ways to think about them, to interpret them, to understand your role, to understand the larger context, depending on the form of expression that the artist responders are giving us,” Agrawal poses.

And in that way, she says, contemporary performance “parallels the way of thinking of ‘Until’ — it is layered. And so, in the same way that I think we approach a lot of other things in our life, it’s not always about liking something. To me, it really is about the experience of trying it.”

“Nick Cave: Until” spans more than 24,000 square feet of Bentonville’s visual arts space the Momentary as the exhibition ponders the question: Is there racism in heaven? Cave views the exhibition as “an elaborate community forum” through which to spur conversation. As a result, from October to early January, the galleries will serve as a studio and stage for 11 local and regional artists to create their own responses to the questions asked by Cave in the exhibition.
(File Photo/Charlie Kaijo)


‘Nick Cave: Until’

WHEN — Through Jan. 3

WHERE — The Momentary in Bentonville

COST — Free

INFO — 367-7500



‘Nick Cave: Until’

Artist Responses

Adrienne Callander — “#littlesweaterhug: Reckoning and Reconcilitation,” 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursdays, through Dec. 31.

Blake Worthey — “Do You Know What You’re Doing Here?” dance performance, 2-2:15 p.m. Dec. 6.

Austin Dean Ashford — Performance, 7 p.m. Dec. 3.

Prison Story Project — “On The Row” staged reading, 2-2:30 p.m. Dec. 5, 9, & Jan. 2.

Poets Respond — With Brody Parrish Craig and Lynette Thrower, 7-8 p.m. Jan. 2.

All performances are free with no registration required.

Categories: Galleries