Nick Cave is no stranger to public performance; the visual artist and dancer has toured the world with his wearable sculptures—soundsuits—which he uses to engage local communities through dance. This month, in conjunction with Creative Time and MTA Arts for Transit, Cave will present his first public art project in NYC, a performance to celebrate the centennial of Grand Central Terminal. Constructed in 1913, the Beaux-Arts train station became an epicenter of a newly-electric New York, and today, remains an emblem of early 20th-century triumphs. We had a chance to catch up with Cave about his upcoming project, which will fill the terminal with his signature Soundsuits, this time incarnate as horses periodically activated with dance. The exhibition is on view from March 25th to March 31st at Vanderbilt Hall, Grand Central Terminal—until then, check out Cave’s work at The Armory Show at Jack Shainman Gallery’s Booth 708 on Pier 94.
Artsy: Your public art projects often incorporate aspects of the local community. For your first public show in NYC, how did you involve the locals?
Nick Cave: For HEARD•NY, we are working with 60 students from The Ailey School, who will don the horse Soundsuits and perform choreographed and improvised movement. But of course the real connection to the local community is to the commuters, passersby, and others who pass through Grand Central every day and will, we hope, find the sight of the horses to be both absorbing and disruptive of their daily routine.
Artsy: At the same time, you reflect the global community; your soundsuits respond to styles of dress and ritual attire across the globe. Can you give an example of how?
NC: Each of the horses in HEARD•NY has a facemask embellished with fabrics from around the world, from Tibet to Morocco to India. This leads one to look at the facemasks as an identity marker and brings in issues of racial and cultural identity. I like to think of these as a global herd, representing a kind of intercultural unity.
Artsy: The original railcars in New York City were pulled by horses. Did this knowledge have an influence on your decision to create horses?
NC: The horse Soundsuits were not created for this piece, so no. However, we are very conscious of the role of the horse in the history of transportation.
Artsy: How would you describe the movements of the students for someone who might not get to see the choreography first hand?
NC: We are still choreographing the movement, but it will combine predetermined and also improvised movement. The “crossings” are intended to elicit a kind of dream state, to bring commuters, tourists, passersby out of the hustle and bustle of city life and the busy station into a place of reflection and wonder.
Artsy: Your exhibition in the terminal is public and free of charge. Why do you feel public art is important?
NC: I am interested in crossing boundaries. My work does this by combining performing and visual art; craft and fine art; representation and abstraction, etc. I think that it is also important for art to cross the boundary between private and public. In the case of HEARD•NY, the work brings a moment of private dreaming into a public space. I think this can be really powerful.
Photographs by Travis Magee, courtesy of Creative Time and MTA Arts for Transit; Photograph by James Prinz Photography, Chicago, courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.