‘I Was Building This Armor’: Watch Nick Cave Sew His ‘Jumpsuits’ To Protect Against Injustice In The World

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A new redesign of the 42nd Street subway station in New York is complete, and in addition to a new accessible elevator, it features two mosaics per Nick Cave—the artist’s largest permanent public work to date.

They are also the largest mosaics in the subway, occupying 4,600 square feet. They feature Cave’s signature “Soundsuits”, brightly colored wearable sculptures and a potpourri of materials including fur, feathers, sequins, bells and buttons. Cave made his first Soundsuit in 1992 after the beating of Rodney King by the police and the LA riots, and more recently Cave made Sound Combination 9:29 in response to the murder of George Floyd.

In a exclusive interview with Art21 in 2016, part of the flagship series Art in the 21st century, Cave reflected on the origins of soundsuits. The artist describes sitting in the park one day and thinking about Rodney King and the riots and wondering, “How does it feel to be scrapped, fired, profiled?

In the end, Cave realized, “I was building this armor, something I could shield myself from the world and society,” with race, gender, and any other identifiable traits masked by the surreal, exotic combination.

The cave describes the costumes as being “split into two bodies of work” – the sculpture itself, a “static work you see in museums” and a performance; when the Soundsuits are activated, they make noise with the slightest movement.

In the 42nd Street subway station mosaics, the sound combinations are captured in the middle of the dance, with radically colored hair flying and each combination surrounded by radiating rings of color that add to the dynamism of the images.

The new Times Square-42nd Street entrance to One Times Square on Monday, May 16, 2022. Marc A. Hermann/MTA.

The mosaics are made up of three separate works, and together the trilogy is titled Each, each, equal to all. It “connects cyclists to the energy of Times Square, while honoring the incredible diversity found throughout New York City”, said Sandra Bloodworth, MTA Arts and Design Program Director. “The work carries a powerful message of equality and representation. Its name makes it clear that the artwork and the celebration is for all of us.

Watch the video, which originally appeared as part of Art21 Art in the 21st century series, below. The new Nick Cave mosaics are now on display at the renovated 42nd Street station.

This is an episode of “Art on Video”, a collaboration between Artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips from artists who are making the news. A new season of the flagship series of the Art21 association Art in the 21st century is now available on PBS. Watch all episodes of other series, like New York close up and Extended gameand learn about the organization’s educational programs at Art21.org.

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