The Love List

est. 2006 // BY JESS GRAVES

Monsters On Ponce: Nick Cave's Wild Rumpus

PEOPLE, APRIL15, ARTJess Graves

Words: Sheyda Mehrara | Photos: Troy Stains


Nick Cave makes me feel like I'm in a heady dream, one where I'm surrounded by maturated Dr. Seuss characters who beckon me to join in a jubilant drum circle of fur and feathers. But these monstrous creatures are very real.  

Fashioned from found objects, the artist's celebrated "Soundsuits" have made Cave famous, but they are only a small part of his plan for Atlanta. At Ponce City Market, a multi-disciplinary development in the historic Sears, Roebuck & Co. building in the city's Old Fourth Ward neighborhood, he will perform “Up Right Atlanta,” which will be the most financially ambitious exhibition commissioned by public arts organization Flux Projects to date. Cave’s performance is expected to be a public relations feeding frenzy.

"Back at my studio," He says, "I have a journal with about thirty performances that I want to pursue. This became an amazing opportunity for me to present this piece. Flux..." Cave pauses. "They just get it. It’s important for me to come to a city and get a vibe for where the piece will transpire." 

Via six free performances (featuring contributions from noted choreographer T. Lang) Cave intends to depict the ceremonial rite of passage for seven locally-chosen initiates, a story he will tell through moving sculptures "as a celebration of the initiate's individual journey." Sounds fabulously weird, doesn't it?  

Artist Nick Cave in Atlanta at Ponce City Market, the site of his forthcoming exhibition. Photo: Troy Stains for The Love List

Artist Nick Cave in Atlanta at Ponce City Market, the site of his forthcoming exhibition. Photo: Troy Stains for The Love List

1. Tell us more about your Soundsuits. The first ones you created were your response to the LAPD’s Rodney King beating. Is “Up Right Atlanta” a response to a certain moment or event? 

We all want to matter in this world. We all want to be validated, to be placed in a position where we are being empowered. I’m interested in how I can continue to empower individuals. So, I’m exploring how I tell others that we are now counting on them to arrive. Each Soundsuit is inspired by some object, usually something that I pick out at a flea market; it becomes the instigator. It’s whatever object that gives me a sense of possibility. I take the object and I move it around the body until I’ve located where I want it to go. From there, I just imagine and build out. That’s what keeps it interesting and allows new forms, new shapes to occur.

2. Should we expect a continuation of the Soundsuit project or is this something entirely new?

This is going to be a Soundsuit experience, but it’s a new piece. It’s really this initiation, a rite of passage. It comes out of my reflection of being conditioned into the person I am today. It’s interesting to think: my mother handed me off to my teachers, my teachers recognized that I had a talent, they conditioned me and then I was handed off again. It’s really a piece about preparing the mind, body and spirit to face the forces that stand in front the way of selfhood. I along with six practitioners, who are just individuals, local people, will be seated on the staging platform. Then, we will start to adorn each body by building this amazing sculpture around them. By the end of this performance, they will look like burial mounds. They will then rise into the world and walk into the world as warriors to face their own destiny.

3. What are some of the triumphs and challenges you are experiencing as you work on this performance? 

We will actually not start choreography until I come for my one-week residency. So, what we have done up until this point is the open call. We have selected all of the musicians, all of the dancers. When I come there in April for that one week residency, I will be working with the dancers and practitioners to then build the project. 

...One week? I’m a dancer by no means, but isn’t that intensive?

One week is not a lot of time at all, but it is truly a meditative piece. I’ll go in the first day and just talk through the concept and the role in which they will play. Then what will happen will be that they will be assigned to one particular piece. They will then dissect and rebuild, dissect and rebuild until they have committed it to memory. 

4. Why debut at Ponce City Market?

We had scouted out a number of places in the city, and as we were looking for venues we all kept in mind the meaning of destination. Where is an opportunity where we can premiere a piece in a public facility that has every day, ordinary people just passing through, as well as the creative, artistic people will be drawn to. I want to set this piece as a guerilla-style performance. This is the trial run because I want to take it and show it all over the world. I want to see how people will respond.

5. What excites you most about visiting Atlanta? Anywhere in the city you plan to visit?

I make work, bring it to a city, and then scout out people in the community to really build the project. So, at the end of the day, that’s the real mission. We go to so many cities and we do so much research, and we find these great musicians and dancers and they do not know each other in the city or ever worked together in the city. So, we are pulling together a crew and bringing to everyone’s attention that they exist and co-exist within the same community. We want them to know that this isn’t the only time they can come together and collaborate. 

I’m definitely planning on visiting the flea markets and taking a look at the antique stores. That’s part of my inventory. I always do that in every city that I go to. I want to talk amongst the individuals that I’ll be working with and just find out what’s going on in the neighborhood.

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Nick Cave’s performance exhibition "Up Right Atlanta" will begin on Friday, April 24 and go until Sunday, April 26. It will mark the first time the public will experience Ponce City Market's Central Food Hall. His book, Meet Me at The Center of the Earth, is available now.