Costume and Performance with Nick Cave's Soundsuits | St. Louis Public Radio

Costume and Performance with Nick Cave's Soundsuits

Nov 2, 2014

Nick Cave's Soundsuits are assembled from objects found throughout the country
Credit Willis Arnold/St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri-born artist Nick Cave's Soundsuits are known for vibrant colors and incorporating found objects as costume. The suits straddle the line between dance costume and soft sculpture. This weekend the St. Louis Art Museum opens Currents 109: Nick Cave, a multimedia solo show presenting Soundsuits, video, and additional work. Cave spoke with St. Louis Public Radio's Willis Ryder Arnold about his work as social commentary and creative influences.

You’ve described your work as a vehicle for social commentary. What are the most important cultural issues or events you try to address?

I’m trying to remove gender, race and class forcing you to look at the work without judgment. It may be something that is unknown or unfamiliar. Do I as a human being have the ability to take a moment before reacting to something that I don’t understand? Fear really becomes and important factor. How do we sort of come to fear as a starting point?

Missouri-born artist Nick Cave
Credit Willis Arnold/St. Louis Public Radio

So you’re trying to mask the kind of things that we generally use to identify ourselves as individuals - race, gender, class - and I’m interested in how you see that interplay between the masking of what would be different identifiers of individuality and creating new identifiers of individuality.

You know I don’t really think about it a lot. I just sort of build things, I don’t sketch anything, it’s really sort of an object or material, something that I find that may trigger a new way of thinking about shape and form. I try to move through the world in this very objective sort of way in terms of being open and aware of all these sort of divisions and diversities and ways in which we function and navigate. And again how does that fold back into me operating and existing in a particular way.

You collect objects that both manifest in your pieces and also collect other artworks. How does your role as a collector of other artworks influence your creative production?

As a collector of other artworks, being an artist, every day I wake up to my destiny. At the end of the day that’s what my life is about, that’s the choice I’ve made. You know I started collecting when I was 18 years old when I was in undergraduate school. So it’s always been a part of my practice, this exchange. As I’ve developed and matured as an artist I’ve also made that shift of “how am I going to collect at this point?” My living space is very curated; it's only what I want to look at every day. No matter which direction I turn in my living space it's something that I want to see. So to me again it’s stepping into my destiny as a vehicle to sort of navigate and to operate out of this creative space.

Some of Cave's Soundsuits incorporate toys and stuffed animals as a method of invoking nostalgia according to the artist
Credit Willis Arnold/St. Louis Public Radio

What’s one experience you had while living in Missouri that deeply informed your creative practice?

I did my first parade when I was a junior at the KC Art Institute, and that consisted of me making 30 costumes and pulling together 30 individuals that were students at the school and creating this sort of procession down on the plaza. And I’m just as curious about the notion of performance and parades and processions today as I was then. So it’s still very much a part of a practice. Right now I’m on my way to Detroit to do some intervention performance work there. For me it’s important to bring my work there but to hire the community to build the performance. I’m an artist with a civic responsibility. At the end of the day that’s the most important thing about what I do as an artist. It’s not necessarily the exhibitions but the outreach and how can I inform and influence another generation to sort of think who’s around you? There’s more people around us that we can collaborate and work with that we aren’t even aware of.

The show runs through March 8, 2015.