NICK CAVE: THE MESSENGER OF SOUND

June 15, 2012 8:02 PM

American Artist Nick Cave was born 1959 in Missouri, best known for his imaginative "Soundsuits.” These wearable fabric sculptures are bright and whimsical often given the resemblance to African ceremonial costumes and masks.Sometimes unexpected materials that act almost like musical instruments, emitting sound as they move. The suits are often incorporated with choreography and music giving birth to a conceptual performance art piece.  Cave graduated from the Kansas City Art Institute in1982 where he learned to sew while simultaneously he trained dance through the Alvin Ailey’s program.  He later went on to get his masters from Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan in 1989. 

His first soundsuits was made of twigs. Other elaborate materials included sisal, plastic buttons, beads, sequins, feathers and dyed human hair. Since 1999 they have exhibited through the art world Cave’s recent performance he spent a year planning "Heard,” a performance piece involving 800 students, faculty and helpers. He now lives in Chicago and is director of the graduate fashion program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

There are many creative titles Nick Cave portray: performer, designer, artist,  so I was intrigued to discover more about Cave’s dream world. Continue on to see what Nick had to say from Chicago when I called him from New York...

Renato: Good Morning Mr. Cave, how is your day going so far? 

Nick: I am great! I had a cup of tea and amazed by the beautiful weather we are having here , how is it in New York? 

Renato: Today is sunny and about 75 degrees. 

Nick: So by Saturday it will be high 80’s degrees due to Chicago’s weather reaching you. 

Renato: I see, well New York can handle the heat. 

Nick: (Laughs) 

Renato: Mr. Cave, can I call you Nick? 

Nick: Sure!  

Renato: Nick, What motivated you to be an artist?

Nick: Huh, What motivated me to be an artist? I don't think that it was anything that motivated me, I think it was sort of internal. For some reason I sort of always meant to be, It is like I am a gay male and I think it is the same as that, It is something internal. 

Renato: Do you recall what age you were? 

Nick: I have always done it, I mean I have always done it! So, you know, and what I mean about this is that I was always involved in the arts field be it through dance or performance, drawing or painting I was always creative. 

Renato: What was your first artistic experience? 

Nick: That I recall was, the thing that was interesting was when I was in high school. Even junior high, I was always involved in theatre or individual art. I was always part of you know the arts club here and there. So I think that through those venues such as talent show and art exhibitions. Things that I was sort of in the development of understanding what the logistics are for putting together an exhibition or what the logistics are when it comes to doing a theatre piece or working in sort of a collaborative manner. You know I have always collaborated to, I remember doing my first parade when I was 22 years old. It just took like 40 people for me to create this parade, So I always been intersecting within these fields. May it be art, fashion design it’s always been about sort of the collective whole of it to really manifest into something. You know, it’s singular in a concept, theory and ideas but yet very complex. There is always a team of some sort that is implementing this as a possibility stage for you to realize that. 

Renato: How would you define the word success?

Nick: Success? I would define the word success when, I get a letter in the mail from someone that says that there are inspired by my exhibition or on my Facebook page when kids are motivated by the work. They will drop an image on my Facebook page. You know these sort of things. First, I think I am not an artist, I am a messenger. I am just here to deliver these deeds, then I just sort of walk away. So for me it is like when I know that the work is doing conscious humanitarian outreaches that I anticipated doing, That is what I consider success. Being Influenced. It is amazing when I see all these fashion designers that are writing about the collection being inspired by Nick Cave’s show I saw at Yerba Buena Center For The Arts or at Jack Shainman gallery. These are things that are like “Wow” I think it’s really at the end of the day that I feel people are motivated, Hungary and curious about my work. The same way that I was when I was 22 years old. 

Renato: Since you mentioned fashion designers, would you consider fashion art? 

Nick: I don't even think I like that word, but I feel designers are really sort of opening a different point of view and forcing us to look at. Not that it becomes a fashion term but it becomes about form and theoretical groups of ideas around the body. That is what I am more interested in so I would say Alexander McQueen. You know what we see on the couture level. That is where the core of putting together a collection is sort of inspired from. It is when these designers like John Galliano, Christian Lacroix create couture. When it is all about doing these presentations that are “amazing”! Because they come up with the merit but then you have a set designer involved, then there is a sound engineer and a lighting artist. Again it becomes a spectacle.  So these are the designers that are really on the cutting edge where fashion meets design meets the body.  What did I miss?  “Practical”! That is not really what it’s about...  At that level it’s more about you know, this is the dream state this is where what motivates me to dissect and then to create the ready wear collection and things of that sort. 

Renato: Do you have a favorite designer? How would you like to collaborate with them?

Nick: Yeah, I would collaborate with Junya Watanabe, I would work with people that would take you to the edge someone that is not commercial.  Of course I respect Vivienne Westwood and all of these designers but whether I would collaborate I do not know if I would gain anything as oppose to collaborating with Alvin Ailey which moves more into dance or maybe with an. Where it is about mixing and changing the ingredient.  I also love Rad Hourani’s work. I was just reading about him the other day and it said something about him being inspired by my work. So I emailed him because I wear some of his stuff so It was interesting how the dots continue to connect. So Who knows! 

Renato: Coming back to Alvin Ailey’s dance group. Having trained with them earlier do you miss the dance? 

Nick: I am in the process of doing 4 new video work for the exhibition in Lille, France so I will be dancing in them. I got my ass up this morning and was running for an hour a half trying to get myself pulled together. 

Renato: Well, from watching your video performances it seems you still have it. 

Nick: (Laughs) I am always trying to keep myself mobile and think of new ways of moving. So I am very excited about these performances in a number of ways,  ( Streaks) I will be coming to New York soon. 

Renato: Well, New York is waiting for you Nick. 

Nick: I am ready to do something new there. 

Renato: Since we are on the subject of Haute Couture and its production process, do you use the same methods when you create your performance pieces? 

Nick: Yeah, what I have been doing lately is creating these sort of performance lab, where I would bring 40 horses to a city and then I will make a two month residency with the team. Then we will do an open call looking for musicians, vocalist, dancers and gymnast whom ever we really need to be involved  in the performance and the goal is to bring the work to a city and hire the community to build the performance. So, yes I could come in do the performance then pack up and leave but you know what it does. It does not create these interventions that I am interested in. I am interested in how can I sort of bring my work there and then work with the city to create a performance lab. From that lab we have moments where we all get together in a circle and make testimonials moments where it is like “what is like being in this part of the process”? I am telling you honey, revelations are so intense and so gratifying that again you know this is when I know I am doing the work, I was sent here to do. That is to use my art vehicle for change. 

Renato: That’s a great goal, What changes would you like made or messages would you like to express to the world? 

Nick: What changes? You know I think I just try to inspire to continue to ask myself questions through an experience. Like (what did I receive from this collaboration) And just keep myself focused until the next project that involves community outreach.  I just did an amazing project with the University of North Texas in Dallas, Texas.   It was working with the art department who fabricated 30 horses for me. Then I worked with the dance program with 60 dancers. Then we worked with the music department with about 150 percussionists who created a score for the performance piece and the gist of the performance was 30 horses that ran through Dallas and then they came to a coral that was made up of the 150 percussionists. At that point the performance started and then at a certain point during the performance the back separates from the front. So it goes a total of 30 horses for a total of 60 performances, “Fabulous” what I was really trying to do here was to create a moment where we dream, we seem to not dream anymore. There is such a crisis around the economy and people just surviving there is no sense of the future. It is more about being present in the now and not any level of projection or forcing anything. So this piece takes to that place of innocence and dream state. It was even amazing for me, when I came in to do the performance. I felt like I was kept away till the day of.  It was the first time ever had this feeling, when it happen,  I felt like I was introduced to a dream. It was like an out of body experience, I am trying to bring it to New York. 

Renato: I hope you do bring this performance to NY. 

Nick: It’s a massive project but we are still working on something first, I would love to bring it there. 

Renato: Have you showed any of your work on the internet? How do you relate art with this new technology movement? 

Nick: I think the internet becomes part of the PR campaign.  There I was doing this performance in Texas and all I was seeing around in this field is everyone watching but at the same time hands were up in the air with cameras rolling , so right there it becomes live. You know, my friend in Seattle is experiencing it as we speak , I think it is part of the new media bliss. It is a natural intersection that we have to accept, I like the media side of it, that it can go to my friends in Paris in a matter of seconds and I like how it becomes this sort of domino effect that reaches a 100 thousand people. 

Renato: Yeah,it is a rapid mean of communication.  

Nick: It does get a little kind of tough when you are trying to do the work. Let’s say if you are trying to create a video work, It gets a bit tough when people are videoing on their phones so it gets out there quickly. Then it gets a little tricky because they are not editing or they are adding other things such as music to it , It’s okay but it can be tricky.  

Renato: Who are your heroes?

Nick: I think Barack is my hero. Lets remove the presidential component.  I am so in awe when he gets into these speeches and he reaches a part when he have left the planet and he has transcended to another plane, that makes him my hero is. What he has done with bringing diversity and the world together is extraordinary, being in Chicago and being part of the presidential election was amazing, when you were looking around there were a diversity of people there, you know, the right gay marriages for example are some of the profound things he is doing. Being president here is his job but being a humanitarian is something else. We hired him to be our president and that is his corporate job but I think the things that he puts out to the world that transcends and changes how we chose to live with each other. 

Renato: Will you vote for him coming November? 

Nick: I will! (Laughs) Of course there are other musicians and artist that I feel are amazing such as Bjork somebody who works on the top of edge between art, fashion design, performance, theatre and film. I mean yeah she is extreme... (Laugh) One thing I feel is amazing is the authenticates of them both. I think that someday I am authentic in that way.  

Renato: When are you satisfied with your work? 

 Nick: When it starts to breath. 

Renato: In what sense? 

Nick: I just know! I don't know how to even get into it just a feeling. It is like I know that it’s ready to be placed in the world and I have no problem releasing it. It is interesting how we do the work in the studio then it goes into a holding bin until we photograph and then it is picked up to be shipped. Then I never ever see it again only unless I am there installing an exhibition but it never returns here. I never ever see it again, I never become in its presence other than at the exhibition or film. It is interesting when I think of it that way. 

Renato: Has the Art world changed you? 

Nick: I think I have changed, I continue to change and hopefully continue to change. (Laugh) ... The art world, I find that I am one of these artists that stands on the outer edge of it. I only come into the center when I have something to deliver and when I am done I go right back to the edge.  I become this voyeur looking and curious to know what is going on but never am I caught up in it or too convinced about anything one way or another.  You know, I have my suspicions and I have my trust and truth around all of that, I am truly fearless but I am never ever dropping all of my cards on the table. 

Renato: If you could be an animal what animal would you be? 

Nick: I would be a bald eagle. Because it can come to the ground and it can be in flight looking above everything in the world, it can be the real focus. I like its integrity and dignity. 

Renato: Who is your favorite performance artist or artist other than yourself? 

Nick: (Laugh) silence...  Oh, the artist,  the artist that I am crazy about is Anselm Kiefer.  That makes me cry. You know you never know what can trigger an emotion. I saw one of his exhibition in Paris and I just started weeping I swear to God! I was like what the (Beep) is wrong with me. 

(We both laugh)... 

Nick: I think it is when one surrender to the experience. It was like crazy! 

Renato: Which of your works are you the most proud of?  Why? 

Nick: I was just thinking about the new form today. I am working on this new exhibition that opens this fall in Lille, France with 60 new works. The newest thing that I am most excited about is this architectural force that I just completed working within a residency with a fabric workshop in Philadelphia. So it is an architectural force that has many bamboo that we had printed with some of my imagery.  It is the architectural structure that you can move in and out of. It also makes sounds. I think that is one of the newest and interesting things for me with what is coming up. I am going to show it in my next show in New York in 2014. I am going to collaborate with a dance company that will do a dance piece with the work. 

Renato: What is this piece’s title? 

Nick: It is just an architectural force. I did not really title it , I don’t know,  sometime titles are good and sometimes not.  

Renato:  Are you influencing by music? What have you been listening to lately? 

Nick: Music wise, this is what happens in my studio every day for probably 20 years easy. I listen to Shirley Horn this one CD titled “ Here’s to Life”  I listen to that every morning. So this is how it works in the studio, every morning it is Shirley Horn then it goes into classical then it sort of builds up everywhere between Hip-Hop to pop, disco whatever, then we sort of go into MPR ( Minnesota Public Radio) for a couple of hours then we sort of open it up to the studio then we sort of rotate. Honey it is a mix bag over here! You know my morning sort of starts out that way. 

Renato: Nick, one last question, what message can you share with all emerging artists? 

Nick: Just stay motivated. Be honest with yourself and do not pretend that    you are something that you are not. Not everybody is cut out to be an artist. You have to be honest about that and it is okay. There are so many areas in the art field that you can do. Do not get caught up in these phenomenal images of the life of an artist and the glamour that’s around that. Just be quiet with yourself. I think that is one of the important parts, “Just be quiet.”

Nick Cave’s forthcoming solo exhibition will show at Fantastic 2012, Lille 3000, Tri Postal, Lille, France, October 6, 2012–January 13, 2013. In the US you can view his work at Austin Museum of Art/Arthouse at the Jones Center, Texas, from September 29–December 30, 2012.

By Renato Amado

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