Nick Cave's Goofy Vision of Hope Plays Times Square Every Night in December

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The Soundsuits in artist Nick Cave’s “Drive-By Remix,” minus the pogo sticks. Color, movement and playfulness are Cave signatures. Courtesy of Nick Cave

Fifteen years ago, artist Nick Cave was standing in the middle of Times Square, thinking, I would love to do a video installation here. Perhaps he's also a prophet because, beginning December 1, that dream is reality.

Cave's "Drive-By Remix" will be projected onto roughly 70 screens every night between 11:57 and midnight through December 30. It's part of the Times Square Alliance's Midnight Moment series, the world's largest, longest-running digital art exhibition. The piece features dancers wearing Cave's elaborate Soundsuits—goofy, colorful, bizarrely festooned creatures, this time on pogo sticks. If you should happen to look up and think, Whoa, what the hell is that?—well, Cave has done his job.

"Everybody has their own issues and things they're dealing with, in addition to a very intense and troubling discourse politically," says Cave. "We need moments that jolt us, that wake up our consciousness—and maybe change our mood in the process."

Color, movement and playfulness are Cave signatures, but the Soundsuits' catalyst was grief—a response to the beating of Rodney King by police officers in 1991. The African-American, Alvin Ailey–trained dancer and artist made the first suit of sticks, twigs and debris (it rustled as Cave moved, thus the name) as a kind of race-, class- and gender-erasing armor. The 500 widely collected suits he's made since—half costume, half sculpture—combine multicultural influences (African, Native American, Japanese, etc.) with a hodgepodge of material: synthetic human hair, pipe cleaners, toys, bulky sweaters and whatever else is at hand. The results pose a question: "How do we look at something 'other' and still find the connection points?" asks Cave. "How do we find unity and community?"

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Nick Cave in his Chicago studio. The Alvin Ailey–trained dancer and artist made the first suit of sticks, twigs and debris (it rustled as Cave moved, thus the name Soundsuit) as a kind of race-, class- and gender-erasing armor. Photo by James Prinz Photography

Times Square will be Cave's biggest canvas yet, as well as a capper to a landmark year. In June, Cave took over New York's Park Avenue Armory for a nearly monthlong installation–­disco ball called "The Let Go." On November 1, Cave's show "If a Tree Falls" opened at the New York gallery of his longtime dealer, Jack Shainman. And on the same day, Cave and his personal and professional partner, the designer Bob Faust, announced the opening of Facility, a self-funded incubator for young artists in Chicago, where they are based.

Cave is the 80th artist to contribute to Midnight Moment, which began in 2012 (other artists have included Björk, Laurie Anderson and rising star Alex Da Corte). Like all the previous work, says Andrew Dinwiddie, the acting director of Times Square Arts, Cave's piece reflects Moment's overarching intention. "Nick's video, in addition to being super fun, encapsulates the singular complexity of Times Square," says Dinwiddie. "The celebration of diverse culture, the history of social activism and, particularly in the New Year season, a beautiful expression of collective joy in the public sphere."

Think of the infectious "Drive-By Remix," then, as Cave's holiday greeting to the world, with a message of hope for a better future. "Midnight Moment slows everyone down for three minutes," says Dinwiddie. "You might turn to a stranger and say, 'Sorry, did you see what I saw?' It's like a collective daydream of another possible reality—and then it's gone!"

"Drive-By Remix" will play Times Square at 11:57 every night from December 1 through December 30. "If A Tree Falls" will be at the Jack Shainman Gallery—524 W. 24th in New York City—Street through December 22.

Nick Cave's Goofy Vision of Hope Plays Times Square Every Night in December