Nick Cave Horses Whirl to Live Music in Grand Central

Don’t just look at your shoes and mumble as you hurry through Manhattan’s Grand Central Terminal this week: A herd of 30 horses is grazing in the station.

The colorful, life-size creatures were created by American artist Nick Cave, 54, and twice every day in Vanderbilt Hall, music plays and the steeds whirl.

Two dancers from the Ailey School inhabit each so-called soundsuit, and there is a moment in the show when the front and back parts of the animals separate and 30 horses turn into 60 performers.

The public project, which runs through March 31, was commissioned by MTA Arts for Transit and Creative Time to celebrate the centennial of Grand Central.

Cave and I spoke by phone prior to the unveiling of “Heard NY.”

Rosboch: Why did you choose to bring horses to Grand Central Terminal?

Cave: I’m looking at the station as a platform to get people back to that place where we dream. We’re in a world where we’re trying to do what we can to exist and hold on to our jobs.

So I’d like to transmit this dream-state feeling, to get us out of our day-to-day routine for a moment.

Working Lab

Rosboch: How will the project work within the station?

Cave: Grand Central is a transition space with people coming and going -- it will be a working lab, and the piece will be developed as we create it.

I’m excited about this because on the one hand the work is done, the object created; so it’s really about coming to this space and looking at it as a sort of open-box arena to explore and develop something magical.

Rosboch: The face masks are beautifully adorned.

Cave: They’re created with textiles from around the world and each horse has a different one. That’s how their individual identities are established. But the piece is more about looking at the world in a global sense.

Rosboch: I was at the Brooklyn Museum last week and saw one of your soundsuits from 2008. Do you see them as different works of art when they’re static as opposed to when they’re being used in performance?

Moving Soundsuits

Cave: When they’re static it becomes more about sculpture, though within our minds we can still imagine the soundsuit on the body and motion being brought to it.

If I go to the American Museum of Natural History, for instance, I see all these artifacts that have been taken out of a particular culture, that we’re forced to look at as precious objects. And yet they served a more utilitarian purpose within that culture. I like the duality of these two readings.

Rosboch: How did you start making your soundsuits?

Cave: The first one started in 1992 in response to the Rodney King incident. That was the mimesis behind the work.

I started thinking, as a black male, about feeling violated, dismissed, and then began to think about the materials that perhaps provoked that feeling for me.

And I happened to be in the park one day and there was a twig on the ground, and for some reason I decided to make these pants and jacket, which I was thinking of as a sculptural form.

I made them and realized that I could put them on. And the moment I did, they made sound. That was the beginning of soundsuits.

Second Skin

Then I started thinking about the role of protest -- to be heard you have to speak louder -- and of building a second skin to protect my spirit.

And as I kept working, I realized that the notion of using things that were cast away was something that I would continue to maintain in my work.

Rosboch: Your interest in found materials came partly from your childhood.

Cave: As a kid, being raised with seven brothers by a single mother, I made art but it was just with what was in my surroundings. I didn’t have the means to buy materials all the time, so I was connected with that process.

Rosboch: Do you collect art?

Cave: I collect contemporary art -- that’s probably my only addiction. The most recent paintings I bought were a Kerry James Marshall and a Hank Willis Thomas. They’re all hanging in my house.

“Heard NY” runs through March 31 in Grand Central Terminal’s Vanderbilt Hall. Performances are at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. daily. Information:

(Lili Rosboch writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are her own. This interview was adapted from a longer conversation.)

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Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.