At the 12:30 p.m. performance of Nick Cave’s Heard on Thursday, a big crowd watched art that transcended the track lighting, walls and pedestals of a typical art gallery.
It was art that pawed at the lawn between University of North Texas’ Art Building and Curry Hall. It was art than kicked and strutted. It was art with a multitude of heartbeats.
The multi-disciplinary project by Cave, a graduate of the University of North Texas who is now chairman of the fashion design program of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, produced about 15 “sound suits” in the form of horses.
Sound suits — a hybrid of fiber art, sculpture, puppetry and performance art — are an invention of Cave’s. He has constructed these suits for years, and the fantastic creations are meant to be worn by a performer who moves while wearing them, thus creating the sound each is designed to make.
It took months to complete the suits. UNT visual art, fashion design and community volunteers built the suits under Cave’s mentorship.
After the performance, Cave appeared to get choked up. He pronounced the project “amazing” and praised UNT dance students, saying they “rocked” in a performance that demanded precision and courage — in addition to the endurance required to dance while wearing the voluminous sound suits on an 80-degree spring day.
“I came in last night, and I felt like I was being separated from the world because I was supposed to meet someone today,” he said. “That’s how it was for me.”
The 30 suits include horse heads — an armature of metal, hardware and cloth covered in raffia — as well as horse bodies covered in raffia. Hundreds of hours went into the project.
In performance, the dancers appeared as horses, trotting onto the lawn. Percussionists in the UNT College of Music played drums and tambourines, affecting hoof beats — and heartbeats — that intensified and sped up through the performance.
The horses tossed their heads, pranced and eventually broke apart. Half of the dancers dipped and shook the horse heads. Dancers appearing as the horse rumps emerged from raffia-covered capes to dance wildly. The performance culminated in a blast of drums and flashes of black, white, red, yellow, pink and blue.
“We saw horses here today,” Cave said. “It doesn’t matter how we see them. They’re real. We all saw them.”
The music department wrote the drum score, and dance faculty member Shelley Cushman choreographed the dance, which included some improvisation.
The project is the product of Cave’s 2012 fellowship through the UNT Institute for the Advancement of the Arts. The final performance of Heard will be at 1:30 p.m. Sunday at the Nasher Sculpture Center, 2001 Flora St. in downtown Dallas. Admission to the Dallas event is $10 for adults, $7 for seniors, $5 for students and free for Nasher Sculpture Center members.
LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .