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Meet Nick Cave – UNT's Artist-in-Residence

by Stephen Becker 10 Oct 2011 7:51 AM

The University of North Texas is bringing a major contemporary artist to serve as this year’s artist-in-residence. The school’s choice is one that will benefit students across many disciplines:


The University of North Texas is bringing a major contemporary artist to serve as this year’s artist-in-residence. The school’s choice is one that will benefit students across many disciplines:

  • KERA Radio story:

  • Online version:

Artist Nick Cave is best known for his sound suits. He builds the wearable sculptures from everyday materials like buttons, twigs and pipe cleaners. They are then worn in performances choreographed by Cave, who trained with the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater.

He got the idea in 1992 while thinking about the Rodney King beating the year before.

CAVE: “I started thinking about being a black male – feeling discarded, viewed less than, devalued. I started to think about how can I formulate that into a sculpture? … Which lead to me sitting in the park and looking down at the ground and there was a twig. That was the beginning.”

The suits do make noise, but in this case, sound is more than its literal definition. Cave believes the idea of sound can also come across in rhythm, repetition and color. And it’s that unlimited toolbox that has held his interest for nearly 20 years.

CAVE: “The potential of the various applications that I can move the work into continues to ask me more questions about the work. … It’s like the world provides me with this endless surplus.”

The Chicago artist’s work has been exhibited in museums around the U.S. and Europe. A solo exhibition – called “Nick Cave: Meet Me at the Center of the Earth” – has traveled the country for two years, making stops in Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Cave attended grad school briefly at UNT. But that’s not the only reason  his name carries plenty of weight with students in school’s textiles program. Diedrick Brackens is a senior at the school.

BRACKENS: “When I heard that they were going to bring him in, it was an unbelievable thing that this artist that you’ve learned about and been really interested in for four or five years is coming to your school and you’re going to get to work with him. It’s almost like meeting a pop star. So it’s really a big moment.”

Cave plans an elaborate performance art piece that will debut in the spring. Students from the fiber arts department will construct 30 sound suits that resemble horses. Performers will then stampede through the campus wearing the suits. Ultimately, they will meet up with a group of student percussionists and dancers. Judging from videos online, the result will likely be a raucous, multi-sensory experience.

Cave is the third resident at UNT’s Institute for the Advancement of the Arts. He follows Jake Heggie, who composed the Moby-Dick opera, and Guillermo Arriaga, the Oscar-nominated screenwriter of Bábel.

Cave’s work touches on many areas – visual arts, performance, dance and music – and the hope is that he will inspire students to think more broadly about the arts.

James Thurman is an assistant professor in the College of Visual Arts and Design.

THURMAN: “Often times, we don’t have that opportunity to get out of our bubble and bridge into the other areas. His working practice is naturally like that. He’s already made connections and brought together a lot of people from a lot of different colleges across this campus, and I think it’s great, particularly for the first year students to see that happening and to not segment their lives in a way just because they’re signed up for this class or that class.”

And for Cave, the relationship is mutually beneficial. He teaches the students, and in return he gets an army of helpers.

CAVE: “It’s just amazing to be able to get the students and their spirit wrapped around a project and the enthusiasm around that. And to be part of the beginning phases of that … you can sort of see the introduction to something extraordinary.”

On Tuesday, Nick Cave will speak at the Nasher Sculpture Center.

  • I love this. It seems to me mime meets jazz meets African music and dance.

  • Jerome Weeks

    That video is fun, capturing some of the live energy, but to get an idea of how rich, beautiful and extraterrestrial Cave’s soundsuits can be, you might want to check out this one (you’ll have to fast-forward at times through the generic filler-image of ribbons unrolling, but it’s worth it):