Through March 31st, artist Nick Cave is taking over Grand Central Terminal's Vanderbilt Hall with "Heard NY," a twice-daily performance featuring a heard of student dancers from the Ailey School who graze and dance through out the station donning Cave's raffia-covered horse Soundsuits. Presented in conjunction with Creative Time and MTA Arts for Transit, the performances, held at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., are free of charge and open to the public. We talked to Cave about his inspiration behind the project and the beauty of transforming an everyday environment into an imaginative one.
What drew you to Grand Central Terminal for this project?
I always wanted to bring this current project to New York, but I wasn't really thinking about when it would be or the location. Creative Time was interested in doing a project with me and they were connected to MTA, and this just happened to be an opportunity that fell into place.
And you previously did this project at North Texas Universsity, too, on a much larger scale.
That was a project that was initiated when I was invited to do a residency at North Texas State with the music department, the art department and the dance department. So they were responsible for executing the work and the music department developed the soundpiece and then the dance department performed the piece.
When did you first start making your Soundsuits?
The Soundsuits started in 1992 and they were in response to the L.A. riots. What I was interested in then was how they really just brought description to Rodney King's identity and I was thinking, 'What does that look like to me as a visual artist? What does it feel like to feel less than and discarded?' I started to look at materials that fit a response to that. The first Soundsuit was a twig suit. I was in the park one day and I saw this twig that was sort of the catalyst for this body of work. I realized I could physically wear it and as I put it on, it was moving and it made sounds and that's how Soundsuits originated.
At that point I knew I was interested in being an artist with a conscience. It really changed my whole way of thinking of myself as an artist and my specific responsibility as an artist as well.
You've been making your Soundsuits in more human forms for years, but you've only recently started making them as horses. What drew you to horses?
I was thinking about this imaginary sort of state of mind, a sort of dream state. We don't seem to dream anymore. I was thinking about myself as an artist with a civic responsibility and I was thinking, 'What can I do to jumpstart that way of thinking? To get us back to our dreams and thinking about how we function in the world?' I think when we have that as part of our daily mindset we tend to mobilize ourselves and continue to think of better ways to exist in the future and in the world.
I was also looking at early puppetry as a way of coming to shape and form. I was thinking of when you're a kid and you put a sock on your hand and then you're able to create this puppet in an instant. It's really about the same sort of concept -- you have two people and then you have a horse. It becomes this sort of moment in time when it's all about creating an imaginary world for yourself.
Yeah, and that idea works beautifully within the context of Grand Central with all the commuters, who aren't really paying attention.
Exactly! People are just moving through. If there's anything I can do to just sort of stop them for one second to change the momentum or just alternate their day in an inspiring way, that's really what this project is all about.
What have been some of the more memorable responses to the horses in Grand Central?
What is so amazing is the abundance of people that are coming. It's been terrific. The audience participation in the performance along the way has been really, really extraordinary and it's great for the dancers from the Alvin Ailey school. The kids are just completely having the time of their life. It's amazing.
Tell me a little bit about how you constructed the horse Soundsuits.
The foundation of the horses is out of a nylon netting structure that lays on top of a brown cloth and the surface is all synthetic raffia. The masks are textiles from all around the world. So, what I wanted to there was to create a global sort of connection because each one has its own identity. I was thinking of the herd moving as a global unit. I wanted it to be subtle but sort of recognizable in the performance. Then the dancers they have really come in to their own with altruistic sense and helped support the work.
How was working with choreographer William Gill and the Ailey students on the project? Was it more of a collaborative effort or did you have strong idea of how you wanted the horses to move in the space?
It was a collaborative effort but I also wanted him to have a platform where he could establish his work. But we've worked on many projects before so he knows how to work with me. I was thinking about the whole pattern and the cycle of pattern through out the station every single day. I wanted to respond to that, that Grand Central is a hub, but it really becomes a place that's always in motion. There's moments in the station where it's so busy but then there are moments that are very quiet, so it's always in flux.
This was your first public performance taking place in an alternative space. Are you interested in doing more public performances in unexpected places?
I'm open to working with any sort of venue that helps support the work. Particularly working outside of these institutions and really bringing the work to the people, that's the most important thing. There are people who are very intimidated by museums and don't feel quite comfortable or welcome in those environments so I have to think as an artist how I can work outside of those parameters and bring the work to the world.
I wish your soundsuits were just walking around New York all the time.
Oh, wouldn't that be fabulous!