NICK CAVE: Hi, I'm Nick Cave, a visual artist, speaking at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
The first "Soundsuit" came about in '92 and it was in response to the Rodney King incident. It was a really, really difficult time for me. As a young, Black male, I was really questioning everything, and so feeling dismissed, discarded, viewed less than—I was just trying to process that. What does that mean? How does that relate to who I am and what it is that I'm trying to do?
I found myself one day in the park. I looked down on the ground and there was this twig. I just started collecting these twigs. I had no idea how they were going to be used, but then I brought them back to the studio and started to build this object.
Subconsciously, yes, I knew it was a garment of some sort, but I was not thinking about it in that way. I was thinking about it as a form, as this sculpture, building this surface and then I realized I could put it on. The moment I put it on and started to move it made sound.
I've made maybe 500, maybe even more, of this particular sort of form. Why do I continue this body of work? I think it's as simple as these issues still continue to be relevant in my life. At the end of the day, it's all about power and it's all about standing up. How do we confront and stand up to something?
The particular piece that's here at the museum, I was thinking about, in terms of getting to the form, was ideas of power. I started to think about the miter hat form, the Klan uniform, the head of a missile, head of a condom. I put all of that together and that's how this form came about.
There's two parts of that piece that are relevant. At the lower right-hand side there is this doily that looks like a pretzel, that's somewhat large. It's that kind of object that determines how the rest of the piece is going to be handled. It's really about where do I place that to where it really becomes a real signifier within the rest of the development of the surface. Also, the bottle cap doilies that are on the back of that particular piece. Being able to collect a collection of maybe 20 of those, and that just offers a different kind of surface application. It's almost sort of like a form of body adornment. There is this raised surface that happens within that piece.
I think when I looked at the piece today—I hadn't seen it in a long time—it’s always interesting to come to the museums and see a piece. I looked at that particular doily and thought that was the reason why this piece happened. It's nice to be able to know the starting point within a work and how that dictates how I'm going to treat the rest of the surface.
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC, in association with D Giles Limited, London
This Present Moment: Crafting a Better World showcases American craft like never before. Accompanying a 2022 exhibition of the same name, it features artists’ stories of resilience, methods of activism, and highlights craft’s ability to spark essential conversations about race, gender, and representation. This book marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Renwick Gallery, the nation’s preeminent center for the enjoyment of American craft. It honors the history of the American studio craft movement while also introducing progressive contemporary narratives.