Nina Simone’s Gum by Warren Ellis
From award-winning musician and composer Warren Ellis comes the unexpected and inspiring story of a piece of chewing gum (with an introduction from Nick Cave).
‘I hadn’t opened the towel that contained her gum since 2013. The last person to touch it was Nina Simone, her saliva and fingerprints unsullied. The idea that it was still in her towel was something I had drawn strength from. I thought each time I opened it some of Nina Simone’s spirit would vanish. In many ways that thought was more important than the gum itself.’
On Thursday 1 July, 1999, Dr Nina Simone gave a rare performance as part of Nick Cave’s Meltdown Festival. After the show, in a state of awe, Warren Ellis crept onto the stage, took Dr Simone’s piece of chewed gum from the piano, wrapped it in her stage towel and put it in a Tower Records bag. The gum remained with him for twenty years; a sacred totem, his creative muse, growing in significance with every passing year.
In 2019, Cave – his collaborator and great friend – asked Warren if there was anything he could contribute to display in his Stranger Than Kindness exhibition. Warren realised the time had come to release the gum. Together they agreed it should be housed in a glass case like a holy relic. Worrying the gum would be damaged or lost, Warren decided to first have it cast in silver and gold, sparking a chain of events that no one could have predicted, one that would take him back to his childhood and his relationship to found objects.
Nina Simone’s Gum is about how something so small can form beautiful connections between people. It is a story about the meaning we place on things, on experiences, and how they become imbued with spirituality. It is a celebration of artistic process, friendship, understanding and love.