Nick Cave’s Wearable Revolution

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Artist Nick Cave has made a name for himself with large-scale performances and installations incorporating dance, music, and, most recognizably, the handmade, intricately detailed costumes he refers to as “Sounds Suits.” In 2013, Cave collaborated with Creative Time to stage Heard NY in Grand Central Terminal’s Vanderbilt Hall. Performed twice daily, Heard NY involves thirty members from the Alvin Ailey dance troop donned in Cave’s equestrian-inspired costumes, made from brightly colored hand-dyed raffia, dancing for twenty minutes amid the ebb and flow of the city’s daily commuters. As with Heard NY, Cave’s Sound Suits and performances reflect his interest in all thing ceremonial and ritualistic, referencing everything from Haitian voodoo practices to the vibrant costumes of the indigenous Mardi Gras Indians.

For his current project, Here Hear, Cave has returned to Detroit, where he was a graduate art student in the late ’80s, to stage a wide variety of impromptu performances—or “invasions”—in addition to numerous community-outreach workshops and public-works initiatives. Commencing in early summer at the Cranbrook Art Museum, which is affiliated with the Cranbrook Academy of Art, Here Hear aims to, in the words of the artist, “jump-start a creative renaissance” in the city that gave birth to the sounds Berry Gordy’s Motown and deep-house music. “It is,” he notes, “a way for me to give back to a city that gave me such direction as a young artist.” “Cranbrook,” he continues, “provided me with intellect, but Detroit gave me soul.”

And with Here Hear’s final performance scheduled for October 11, Cave, reflecting upon the project, freely admits it has been “life changing.” One gets the sense that, for him the most rewarding experiences have been those, in which he has had the opportunity to interact directly with Detroit’s population, especially the city’s traditionally underserved communities. Among the ways he has achieved this has been to set up a series of “performance labs” throughout the city, with the intention of “drawing people out of their neighborhoods as well as their comfort zones.” For Cave, doing so has helped redefine the notion of how and where performances—particularly artistic ones—can be staged, “proving,” he contends, “that such events can really happen anywhere.”

“It has been exhilarating,” he concludes, “to bring life back into these communities that have been forgotten or abandoned, recharging them.” As he underscores, “I’m invested in looking at a city and imagining how I can diversify the experience of it.” Now with Here Hear drawing to its end, Cave feels that in some way, he has helped “reintroduce Detroit to itself.”

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