Interview: Nick Cave


Mixed Media

Mixed Media



Nick Cave combines free-spirited motion exploratory modern dance with ostentatious sculptural detail to breath new life into contemporary art. In many ways, Nick’s work function within the vein of African art/costuming in the sense that they are intended to be “danced,” and enlivened within the context of performance and dance to illustrate and reflect upon societal mores and the cultural landscape. With references to haute couture, sculpture, performance, African American culture, costume, masquerade and beyond, Nick’s “Sound Suits” defy categorization. Beautiful/Decay recently had the opportunity to interview Nick Cave to discuss his background, inspiration and ideology behind the suits. Nick Cave is currently showing his latest works at Jack Shainman Gallery, until Feb 7, 2009. 


Your background is in fiber textiles and modern dance- in a video I heard you say that the sound suits emerged out of your attempt to conflate these two disciplines. One of your first sound suits was made out of twigs collected off of the ground, that at first in your mind functioned more of a sculptural object, until you donned the suit and realized it had an amazing tactile, performative quality. After this initial suit, what were your ensuing “sound suits” like? How did your vernacular develop? 


Through material and the role in which material can provoke transcend a idea, feelings. 

What considerations do you take into mind when creating a soundsuit, with regards to material, composition, color and sound? 

None all organic , anything can happen and its all about imagination. 


The suits themselves are quite seductive visually—fundamentally sort of linked to haute couture, one could definitely see these walked down fashion runways as well or in avant-garde high fashion photo shoots. How do you think these works function within this idiom? 


No absolutely not, they were not intended to be connected to fashion but I can how they can inspire the fashion world. 

Can you describe your creative process behind the creation of a soundsuit, from the inception of the idea, to the fabrication of the piece, to performing it? 

Its just organic and anything can spark it. Maybe a certain pattern in a textile will start a shape and then its just exploring. 

In many ways, I feel that your work explores African art and the African-American experience. (I saw that you participated in the show Stephanie Sydner curated, “Working History: African American Objects,” which included such heavy weights as Adrian Piper, Faith Ringgold, Kara Walker, among others). In a sense, your work continues on the lineage of African art in the sense that your works are sculptural, yet are enlivened within the context of performance and dance to illustrate and reflect upon societal mores and the cultural landscape. I’m thinking in particular of the masks and headdresses that are animated via dance to express a broad range of ideologies and occasion within African culture… Do you see your work as being situated within this visual language? 

When I go to Museums looking at objects and the way they fit in society, their role in it and the formality , work is positioned and forced to be seen. The ceremonial costumes of the past all had a purpose so I play and mix those in my work with modern creative ideas. 

They also bring to play a certain sexuality associated with the mask and costume—I’m thinking of the ostentation of Brazilian carnaval, or the erotic identity- separation (and subsequent loss of sexual inhibition) of 18th century European masquerade balls. How do you feel your suits relate to sex and gender—do their concealing powers liberate? 

Absolutely, as I mentioned before putting on the suit can only be done when you let yourself go and immerse yourself into the suit/world it creates. 

Can you describe the feeling of donning one of your soundsuits to the unitiated? 

Its like a suit of armor , protecting your identity, making yourself hidden from your exterior. 

You have to settle with yourself before you can bring this association and other identity before you can let it completely take you over. 

Can you recommend a few critical texts, images, quotes or philosophies to those who are interested in digging deeper within your work? 

I come from a background of performance and a passion for textiles. I spend a lot of time looking at Haitian and African garments. Museums of Natural History, always an inspiration. I look at objects and the function versus art. Looking at duality in both. 

Role of my work Is that I want to navigate between the two worlds of function and art. When objects are taken out of context, you find varied meanings. 

If you could create a project, regardless of cost or scope, with your soundsuits, what would you imagine? 


Well that’s actually in the works. I have a 90 Soundsuit performance, working with community based project , dance companies and doing outreach to the public schools. This is where I see myself as a humanitarian first using my art as a vehicle for change. 

For example I could go to a city, work for a certain amount of time and leave the program with new ideas and art to be continued and shared amongst the community. 

As child, seeing Alvin Alivey perform was it for me……when that opportunity came around, I thought I would want give that back and make other dreams become reality like mine did. 

What other projects do you have on the horizon; where else can we see your work in the coming months? 

Yerba Buena Art center. San Francisco. installation of 60 Soundsuit installations. 

Traveling show- LA, Seattle, New Orleans, etc. (see below) 

In collaboration with Rob Brown dance company 

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts 

Nick Cave: Meet Me at the Center of the Earth

Mar 28–Jul 5, 2009 

YBCA brings Meet Me at the Center of the Earth: New Work by Nick Cave which features Cave’s shimmering soundsuit sculptures. The soundsuits seem poised to explode into dance and ritual while exploring issues of ceremony, identity and myth. The many layers of meaning woven into the physically beautiful soundsuits intrigue, overwhelm, challenge and seduce the audience. This exhibition represents the largest scale presentation of Cave’s career, the publishing of a major monograph and the opportunity to present Cave’s soundsuits in performance. As many as thirty soundsuits surround the sphere on mannequins creating a space evocative of sacred and ritual space. The 08-09 performance season concludes with a truly remarkable mash-up of performing and visual art in YBCA’s Gallery, fusing the movement of renowned choreographer Ronald K. Brown and Cave’s shimmering soundsuits.


For more info about Nick Cave, visit: Jack Shainman Gallery

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