Had my pretty little socks blown off by the wonderful vision and realisation of extraordinary African American contemporary visual artist Nick Cave (different fella to the musician of the same name) in his vibrant performing art piece HEARD, which I had the immense pleasure of enjoying alongside hundreds of other gallery-goers at Brisbane’s QAGOMA a couple of years ago.
HEARD consists of 30 'soundsuits', made to be worn or displayed as sculptures. Cave created his first soundsuit in 1992 in response to the now infamous beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police and his awareness of the danger of being a black man in the United States. Describing the creative process, he speaks of picking up a twig from the ground, something of no value, and adding another twig, and then another, to form a protective suit. Cave's soundsuits offer a way to express individuality while shielding identity markers such as skin colour, gender or sexuality.
HEARD comes alive both as a large-scale community performance, and when walking around the soundsuits, hearing the rustle of the raffia and imagining the sculptures fully in motion. In performance mode, each horse is brought to life by two dancers who develop its behaviour and character. HEARD involves a group of individuals working together to become something larger – firstly as a pair, and then as the 'herd' – and relies on the strengths of the individual and the massed group. Similarly, the choreography shifts from free-form improvisation to a trained body of dancers moving in unison; open-ended creativity and co-ordinated structure are of equal value, as they are within our society as a whole. — QAGOMA website
I just love how HEARD was colourful, vivacious, exciting, energising and celebratory, whilst simultaneously making a bold statement on such serious topics as race relations and the tragic beating to death of Rodney King and multitudes of other innocent African American people. It also makes me think of our own Australian Aborigines, whose bodies fill an inordinate number of jail cells and positions on the deaths-in-custody list that is our great national shame.