For the concurrent opening of EXPO Chicago and the Chicago Architecture Biennial, artist Nick Cave and architect Jeanne Gang put on a show few are likely to forget. The first performance of their collaboration, Here Hear Chicago. took place on September 13 at Navy Pier’s AON Grand Ball Room for a capacity crowd during EXPO’s Vernissage. Subsequent shows will take place over the weekend for the public.
The buzzing atmosphere of EXPO’s preview night was overtaken by the sound of drums a half hour before the scheduled start of the performance, as a parade of Cave’s uncanny “Soundsuit”-clad performers marched between the stalls of the international art show. Guests ran to get a look and cheered the scene as the performers made their way to the grand ballroom. Before entering the space, the troop moved through a forest of six-foot tall “buoys,” made by Studio Gang. Each performer wove and danced around the more than 200 teetering chrome Mylar objects as the crowd followed.
The show itself began in a more muted key. Set to the haunting music of composer Kahil El’Zabar, Cave and a group of young men took the stage. Sitting perfectly still for a full half hour, each was attended to by a white-clad attendant who slowly and methodically dressed them in colorful fur soundsuits. When they finally stood, bodies completely abstracted, the crowd roared their approval.
For the next 45 minutes, the performers moved through the space, interacting with each other and the crowd. Most of the time their bodies were abstracted and concealed. A fleeting glimpse of a foot or hand shooting out from the exorbitant costuming was the only hint of humanity in the alien forms. Guttural calls and howls by the performances accompanied El’Zabar’s abstract jazz, with the occasional call back from members of the audience.
In the last moments of the show, Nick Cave set the long line of buoys lining the stage into movement. For those who may have hoped that the Studio Gang-designed elements would have played a larger role in the performance, this was the apex. Once the show was complete, many guests rushed to engage with the playful forms.
Here Hear Chicago was part of the kick-off of the sixth EXPO CHICAGO international art exhibition and the second Chicago Architecture Biennial. EXPO runs from September 13 through September 17 at Navy Pier, and the Chicago Architecture Biennial runs from September 16 through January 7, 2018 at various venues, with a main exhibition at the Chicago Cultural Center.