Nick Cave

Nick Cave / United States b.1959 / HEARD (details) 2012 / Purchased 2016 to mark the tenth anniversary of the opening of the Gallery of Modern Art with funds from the Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Diversity Foundation through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / Photograph: James Prinz Photography / Image courtesy: The artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

Nick Cave's HEARD offers a magical cradle of possibility, drawing us together to experience something wondrous. It acts as an energy exchange point, and energy generator.

HEARD consists of 30 'soundsuits', made to be worn or displayed as sculptures. Cave created his first soundsuit in 1992 in response to the now infamous beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police and his awareness of the danger of being a black man in the United States. Describing the creative process, he speaks of picking up a twig from the ground, something of no value, and adding another twig, and then another, to form a protective suit. Cave's soundsuits offer a way to express individuality while shielding identity markers such as skin colour, gender or sexuality.

HEARD comes alive both as a large-scale community performance, and when walking around the soundsuits, hearing the rustle of the raffia and imagining the sculptures fully in motion. In performance mode, each horse is brought to life by two dancers who develop its behavior and character. HEARD involves a group of individuals working together to become something larger – firstly as a pair, and then as the 'herd' – and relies on the strengths of the individual and the massed group. Similarly, the choreography shifts from free-form improvisation to a trained body of dancers moving in unison; open-ended creativity and co-ordinated structure are of equal value, as they are within our society as a whole.

HEARD has a sense of ceremony – it is full of pageantry, colour and sound. 'Hearing' each other is a hopeful metaphor for an inclusive, energised society sharing a sense of wonder and having the space to realise dreams. The soundsuits draw on longstanding performative traditions, from the abundant ornamentation of African ceremonial costume, to the elaborate garb of the New Orleans 'Mardi Gras Indians'. By joining everyday materials collected on his travels – raffia, buttons, beads and crochet – together with music, dance and community participation, Cave encourages us to smile and remember that change and transformation are always possible.

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