I met Nick Cave as a student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) in 1988. I started art school thinking I was going to be a fashion designer and quickly realized that there was no way I’d be able to sit behind a sewing machine for four years. I always had been interested in photography and thought fashion photography would be my next move. I took a fiber class in hopes of creating backdrops for my photos. Nick Cave was my instructor and I asked to modify my purpose for taking the class, he asked if I would be interested in shooting some of his work. I started shooting his projects on a regular basis and that is when our friendship began.
As a photo assistant at a studio in the West Loop I was able to use the studio during off times. We would generally shoot on Friday evenings for a few hours followed by Nick taking me to Generator – his favorite night club, to dance to house music ‘til the wee hours of the morning.
When Nick and I first started collaborating I was doing a straightforward documentation of his work and process. As we got to know each other, he was more open to expressing himself through his work. The first time I realized that Nick was about more than fashion, was when we shot a performance art series called Anti-Fur Coat. His coat was made of velcroed wigs that Nick would put on and off his head to become a different person based on which wig he was wearing. I believe this was the precursor to “Nikki” and to his celebrated Sound Suits exhibit.
photos by BEN WESTON
It must have been around Easter because the studio had a bowl of chalk colored chocolate Easter eggs, like what we all ate as kids. I started recording while editing in camera and the film “Nikki” was born. As Nick and I watched it, we were amazed at what we created. The VHS tape then sat in my drawer for 25 years until I decided to look at it again. By this time, the tape had deteriorated so much that it turned into a grainy, scratchy black and white film. I immediately sent it out to be digitized.
At SAIC, there was a plethora of photo equipment at our disposal and I decided to check out a Sony video camera to experiment with the next time I saw Nick. This was the kind of camera that used a VHS tape as the media. I didn’t know anything about shooting video and the only way to pull this off was to edit in the camera by stopping and starting the recording in real-time.
I spent years thinking about what I would do with this piece. I shot some additional footage and put together a slightly extended version. I added music for background interest and was fortunate to be able to include and work with some of my music idols; Moby, House music legend Steve “Silk” Hurley and Milty Evans.
When I was asked to include Nikki in Nick’s retrospective Forothermore exhibit, Nick, his partner Bob Faust (Who designed my .25 coffee table book) and I decided to strip the piece back down to the original footage and just keep the music. So far, this is a long story with a happy ending: The Forothermore exhibit will continue its run at the MCA through early October. Then it’s on to the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. Hope to see you there!
The following film has not been edited or color corrected. It is a one take, unscripted, unedited 23 minute art film. Circa 1989.