When the Rodney King verdict was announced in t 1992, Nick Cave was alone in a city park and felt compelled to do something physical. He gathered sticks. They became the first of his more than 500 Soundsuits – giant wearable costumes that obscure the wearer’s identity, race and gender. Subsequent materials like plush toys, buttons, potholders, hook rugs, sequins or pipe cleaners, take on forms that evoke vessels, mountains, religious attire, and even instrument cases. They became one of the more identifiable and successful bodies of work by an artist in the past twenty years, but Nick Cave is stepping away for the time being.
CALEB NEELON: What is the immediate reaction people have when they put on a Soundsuit for the first time, or I should say, when a Soundsuit wears them?
NICK CAVE: It’s interesting you say that. I talk about the object or the work that you are going to be wearing. I ask them to imagine what it is going to feel like. Prepare yourself for this transition. Touch it, experience it in this imaginary sort of way. And then I tell people, when you put it on, don’t even move at first. Just become one with the object; otherwise it’s wearing you. You’ve got to be able to surrender to this transformative space, or else you really lose control and fall apart. Individuals need to take out the time to surrender to this shift – because what happens is your identity, gender, race, is no longer relevant. I’m forced to look at something without judgment. It’s about projection and conviction. I know that you are in the Soundsuit, but how are you going to establish an identity that allows coming face-to-face with this other. It takes time, but when you do reach that shift, it’s amazing when that happens.
Was Chicago the city of your imagination growing up, and did you always envision being there?
I could have gotten into a lot of shit in New York, but in Chicago I can have an amazing studio environment. I think of Chicago as my open canvas, my testing ground, and that’s how I use it. At one point, I thought I would be living in New York with everybody else. But knowing I have the ability to jump into the center of it all and then jump back is what it’s saying to me – Chicago has protected me from being lost, from being seduced.
You have [a] show looming in the Fall of 2016 at Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, which, for those who haven’t been, is pretty much a massive old New England mill building-turned-museum space that every artist dreams of. Think airplane hangar with exposed brick walls, right near the Berkshires. How are you approaching that one?
What I will say about that project is I’m going to put you in the belly of a Soundsuit. When you know it’s a show that’s going to run for a whole year, it changes things. And there is the Jack Shainman show this fall in New York, which is going to be new work, but no Soundsuits.
Stepping away from Soundsuits had to take some guts.
You know, it really didn’t. I was feeling it, and decided, you know what, I’m doing it. We have to keep it moving. I had been thinking about it for a while. And I’m planning to take a ten-year hiatus. I have ideas for new ones, but I’m ready to talk about some other things.
To read complete interview order a copy of the May 2014 issue of Juxtapoz here.