Monday, September 21, 2009


Soundsuit, 2009. Photography Jamie Prinz. Courtesy Jack Shainman Gallery, NYC


Using found materials like twigs, buttons, old sequin clothes, and broken screen doors, the artist and former fashion designer Nick Cave constructs what he calls “Soundsuits”—large, lavish, wondrous costumes that have inspired Ohne Titel’s Flora Gill and Alexa Adams since the inception of their label. “His work is so deeply textural, and he does such interesting surface treatment—it’s something we strive for in at least a piece or two in each collection,” says Gill. That includes their Spring 2010 collection, which was filled with intricately crafted graphic pieces fashioned from layers of silk knots and feathers.
Here, Gill, Adams, and Ohne Titel’s third partner Stephen Courter sit down with Cave to discuss color, reinvention, and the beauty of imperfection. They also plant the seeds for what will undoubtedly be an intriguing art/fashion collaboration.

FLORA GILL You always seem to be collecting new items —doilies and buttons and stuff¬—and bringing them all together into one large thing. What inspires you?
NICK CAVE I think what really inspires the work is the object and its whole history—is there a nostalgic sensibility in the object so it can aspire to something? When I am out looking for stuff, I am more looking to that idea as opposed to the object itself.
ALEXA ADAMS Do you think it is more interesting to subvert it or to just continue with that idea—or to do something different with it?

NC I think that the way it is incorporated shifts the meaning or puts it into a different context, but I am very interested in it maintaining its own role. Then, how does it all fold into this new way of seeing it—it sort of is reclaiming things that already exist, sort of finding a new voice.
FG Yes, reinventing…
NC Well, it’s like if you were to give me your last collection and then I had to re-design it. It’s that kind of thing. What are the things I want to hold on to, and yet, how can I move it forward?
AA I think what is really interesting in your work is that one thing doesn’t have one natural aesthetic, there could be different sounds that could be created or different ways you can relate to a piece. To me, there is one strong aesthetic and there are multiple ways you can interpret it.
NC Right, is it sculpture, is it performance, is it an object? These are things that are all part of the development, of the process. It’s like that again with clothing, when I do collections, do I think about the client? Not necessarily, as opposed to what is this garment doing? What is its potential? Does it only function as a singular skirt or could it be a hoodie?
FG We do a lot of fabric development, and are always questioning, what is the nature of the fabric we are creating? Especially with knits or more sculptural fabrics. What kind of piece would we like to make out of it? Sometimes, the fabric dictates how the piece will look in the end.
NC Because of how it drapes?
FG Because of how it drapes, but also how it moves on the body, and the personality of the piece and how it turns out after using this interesting material. You did this amazing piece that was like a bunch of bags, little punched-in bags and it seemed like you could stick your arms into it and turn it into an amoeba shape or something. It was really interesting once you made that piece; it became something totally different once you put it on. That happens in our fittings. What you draw is not necessarily what you get. The piece changes a lot once you create on the body…I am really inspired by the idea of taking something, either if it is an embellishment technique or something that had previous meaning and creating something new. We have done a lot with macramé.
NC Well you know, that whole idea of holding on to tradition—like in an old macramé book— is so horrendous, but you just take it to the next level. It’s really all about appropriation. It’s providing a different type of reading, and that is what I love about these traditions. How will we be able to elevate them to this extraordinary level? Your next collection is inspired by my work?

From left: Ohne Titel S/S 2010, F/W 2009, S/S 2010
AA Yes, you have inspired seven pieces of it. There is a whole group that is about body, silhouette, and shape. It is about molding this fabric, it creates a really fantastic silhouette. That is something I thought was really strong about your work, how you play with a somewhat traditional silhouette and a traditional order, and completely change it. You change the shape too, but it is all very iconic. That is something we are working with this season, a very iconic and strong body silhouette. We also have these pieces that are knits with embellishments on top of them.
NC I love when you are doing a collection, and you have the anchor pieces, like staple pieces, and then you have these three or four fashion pieces that make you sweat. You know the ones, only three stores will get it, but that’s what it’s all about.
FG Yes it is about being special and having something that could hang on its own almost like a work of art.
STEPHEN COURTER: What is your relationship with fashion, I know obviously you had your own line before.
NC Well, I’m the director of the graduate fashion program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and I have always been interested in fashion, but not in a direct way. I don’t look at fashion to be inspired. I am more interested in everything else. That is why I really like your collection. I tell my students, ‘Don’t look at fashion magazines because it is already done! What is not done is what you see when you walk home from school every day. What could you be inspired by at that moment?’ You know, just trying to move them forward. When I’m doing clothing, I think of more conceptual pieces first and then from that, I draw the collection. I have to have that outlet to be as innovative as I possibly can, and then from that work backwards.
FG It’s interesting how, within your artistic practice, you appropriate fashion or elements of dress, elements of embellishments.
NC It is an intersection between couture, architecture, painting, and my grandma’s quilt.
NC Or, George Clinton meets the fairy, meets the Pope…But why are designers not collaborating with artists? I mean not that my work should inspire you or anyone else’s, but why aren’t we doing a small collection together?
AA It would be amazing. Something really good could come from that.
NC Or if you handed like ten pieces over and said, ‘Do whatever you want, embellish them like you want.’

From left: Ohne Titel S/S 2009, F/W 2008, F/W 2007
FG That would be incredible.
I think fashion needs to become more flexible. There should be a conversation between the artist and the designer. When I think about the designers in Europe, most of their collections are created by working with stage designers, light designers, musicians— all of these things set the stage for the collection, which is very interesting and which is also probably why their shows are so extreme, because there is a group of people coming together to make it happen.
SC We work with some talented people like Alastair McKimm, Jimmy Paul and Bryan Black when it comes to our shows and we are always excited by the work of artists like yourself who have such a strong vision.  I love your sense of color and how you manipulate them.  Do you go into the work with specific color relationships in mind or do you just let it evolve organically?  
NC I don’t think about it. In the studio, I really try to not be responsible for any decisions, although I am responsible for all of them. But I try not to dwell or put a lot of thought behind what I am doing. I really just need to exercise it. I am interested in grabbing something here and there, and putting it together.
AA It is all very instinctual. You let the work become what it wants to become. It grows. I always feel that if you think it over too much, you will overthink it.
NC You basically kill it.
FG It ends up really, really flat.
NC What I do is then turn the dress upside down and then go from there. You know what I mean? What the hell?
FG My dad has this amazing phrase that he uses about his work, which is also very colorful: “All colors go together, but some of them just have to work a little harder.”
NC Ah! (laughter) Yes I think that is true.
AA I think everyone has a pre-conceived notion of what good taste is, and the interesting things might be what you assume to be horrible together. You have to be open to the possibilities of anything.
NC Yesterday I saw somebody crossing the street with bags. I can’t remember what colors they were, but I just stopped because I thought this is so… I would never even have considered these colors together but they were just so amazing.

From left: Alexa Adams, Nick Cave, Flora Gill

FG Don’t you just love when that happens!
NC But then I think, is it just about the moment? Because, sometimes when I try to bring that into my collection or my work, it doesn’t happen the same way. You just appreciate it because of that special moment.
AA There is a uniqueness of a moment, a lack of effort.
NC I’m making this new sound-suit right now out of sweaters, cut up and made into the shapes of bones. It is going to be about 12 feet tall. I don’t know what they are going to do at the gallery.
NC Maybe put it on the roof? You know I realized I am going to make a sweater as well. The sound-suit is really conceptual, so I want to bring it down to its role in terms of fashion. I’m interested in the transition from one to the other, how you maintain the integrity.
AA You need to keep that power. I am so excited to see it! How did you start making them? Why bones?
NC My assistant started cutting up the sweaters and rolling them and stitching them into a pile about this high and this wide.
FG Do it again! Your wingspan is just incredible! (laughter)
NC All of a sudden, I looked at it and I thought, this is a pile of bones. In the exhibition it is going to be this pile of bones, then the sound-suit next to it. Again, it’s like I am working on a lot of things at once and I am not sure how it all comes together, but then, all of a sudden, it will start to formulate as a whole.
FG Sometimes I think that the most beautiful things are the things that are done by hand, but they are not perfectly hand-done.
NC There was this woman who did this sweater for me and she was halfway through and she brought it to me to see and she was like, ‘Nick, this yarn isn’t looping properly,’ and she was freaking out because of it. And I was like ‘Oh my God! That is exactly what I want!’ So she had to do the whole thing just like it. I said, ‘Don’t try to figure it out, just continue doing what you do.’ It’s so amazing. I would never have liked it to be any other way.
FG There is that amazing Chanel documentary where they go to the countryside and this 80-year-old woman is the only person on earth who knows how to make a Chanel braided trim and she pulls out all of those strings and she makes it herself and they tried to have people from a factory in India come and do it but they couldn’t.
SC The whole collection was stalled for two weeks because she had to collect the hay. (She was very cute.) She said, ‘The Chanel trim has to wait until I have collected my hay.’ It’s sort of funny to think that Karl Lagerfeld had to worry about this lady’s hay crop.” (laughter)
NC How does the dynamic between you two translate into work?
AA We are definitely very different in our personal styles, and the way that we work. I think that is what is so cool about our work—we meet somewhere in the middle. We have a completely fresh perspective. What you were saying about collaborations, we have a built-in collaboration at all times. Sometimes, I wonder how people can do it all by themselves. It is about control in a weird way. I feel a total sense of control in our partnership

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