‘They Force You to Look Without Judgement’: Watch Nick Cave Describe the Origins of His Trademark Soundsuits

As part of a new collaboration with Art21, hear news-making artists describe their inspirations in their own words.

A still from the Art21 film. Courtesy of Art21.

If you visit the Park Avenue Armory in New York sometime this month, make sure to bring your dancing shoes. The artist Nick Cave has transformed the massive drill hall into a cavernous disco where New Yorkers are invited to boogie their anxieties away.

On select evenings through July 1, the installation also hosts transporting performances during which a cast of dancers don “Soundsuits,” the ecstatic, wearable sculptures that have made Cave famous.

But don’t let their bright colors fool you into thinking this is a purely celebratory occasion. These suits—which obscure the identity of the person inside—are informed by Cave’s own experience growing up as a black man in America, including having been racially profiled by police.

Cave discussed the origins of the suits, which he developed as metaphorical suits of armor in response to the Rodney King beatings, in a 2015 interview with Art21. “I don’t ever see the Soundsuits as fun,” Cave says. “They really are coming from a very dark place. The Soundsuits hide gender, race, class. And they force you to look at the work without judgment.”

To learn more about Cave’s creative process and the inspiration behind his Soundsuits, watch a clip from Art21’s “Extended Play” digital series below. “Nick Cave: The Let Go” is on view at the Park Avenue Armory until July 1.

This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips of newsmaking artists throughout the summer. A new season of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship Art in the Twenty-First Century television series premieres this September on PBS. Watch full episodes and learn about the organization’s education programs at Art21.org.

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