It was an ordinary day at Grand Central Terminal, in New York City. People were rushing through the busy train station on their way to and from work. Then the creatures showed up.
At first, they looked like multicolored haystacks: They were green, red, and shades of blue. They rose with a whisper, but as they moved faster, they gave off a whoosh, like wind in leaves. They waddled, stomped, and shimmied to a drumbeat. People stopped and fixed their eyes on the dancing beasts. For a moment, passersby had stepped into a different world.
That’s what the artist Nick Cave wants us to experience when we encounter his Soundsuits. When dancers put on these costumes and begin to move, they create what Cave calls living, breathing artwork. We wonder: “Who are these creatures? How should I relate to them?”
“I want a viewer to reflect on how they respond to someone or something unlike themselves,” Cave told TIME for Kids. “It’s a way to start a discussion about difference and the power of uniqueness.”
MULTIMEDIA Nick Cave’s work blends sculpture, sound, and movement.
JAMES PRINZ PHOTOGRAPHY
The Grand Central event, Heard NY, was in 2013. The Soundsuits for that performance were made of raffia, a yellow, strawlike fiber from palm leaves.
Now, a collection of Cave’s Soundsuits is on display at the Orlando Museum of Art, in Florida. The exhibition runs through December 30. It includes suits made with all sorts of materials: sequins, buttons, crocheted blankets, porcelain birds, toys, and globes. Cave finds these objects in secondhand stores and gives them new life.
A Soundsuit gives a person wearing it new life too, at least temporarily. Cave says it allows him to be seen without prejudice. “The Soundsuit hides gender, race, and class,” he says. “When I put one on, it is an extremely liberating feeling.”
The suits can liberate a person watching, too. “[The suits] open the door to imagination,” says Coralie Claeysen-Gleyzon, an associate curator at the museum. “They help you open your mind and project what you could be, what you could create.”
Feeling energized? Take a lesson from the artist. Cave says he gets his best ideas by keeping his eyes open. “The places and people I come across every day are the greatest and most surprising inspirations.”