Nick Cave has taken performance art to another level with his seven-month experiential “Performance Series” in Detroit, and the museum exhibition “Here Hear” at Cranbrook Art Museum, which in addition to presenting his famous Soundsuit sculptures, also serves as a living document of this ambitious project. In effect, Cave, with the cooperation of numerous other parties in Detroit, has turned the city into a living canvas. Here, we talk with Cave about his ambitious project, collective dreaming and the Cranbrook legacy.
This is a seriously ambitious project! Did you wake up one day and say I want to blow the roof off Detroit—and keep it off for seven months? If I could keep it off forever, I would.
You will be making a rare Soundsuit performance yourself, so I was hoping you could tell us about the evolution of this piece. I first created a Soundsuit in the aftermath of the Rodney King beatings in 1991, envisioning them as an emotional shield that protects one’s race or gender while still expressing individuality. For this project with the Cranbrook Art Museum, we’ve chosen various iconic locations throughout Detroit to shoot photographs of the soundsuits as I perform in them. But one of the many highlights of this project will be Up Right: Detroit, a performance with participants from the Ruth Ellis Center. This is a piece where I share my own upbringing of being shaped and formed by others that I have been passed through. All visionaries who saw my creative spirit and worked to bring out my confidence around my own identity.
Cranbrook has an incredible legacy of artists and designers. When you studied there, who were some of the heroes you could feel present in that space? Of course Saarinen is omnipresent. And my greatest mentor has been Gerhardt Knodel.
This entire project seems to be a very personal one. Does that make it easier or harder for you? Harder, of course. There is an expectation tied to everything I do and my reputation rides on it. My goal is to leave an imprint rather than make an impression. To do this you have to commit and step into the fear.
Do you think about this project as a stimulating, continuous dream for the city to enjoy? No. It is more of myriad energizing blasts throughout the city that will create new connections, friendships and shared moments we each can use in our lives going forward.
In addition to the photography for the book being published this summer, will you be documenting the process throughout? Everything. I look forward to seeing what all perspectives bring up and out.
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