From the minute you enter the Wade Thompson Drill Hall in the Park Avenue Armory, you become a part of “The Let Go,” an interdisciplinary installation created by visual artist Nick Cave. This is no accident. “For Cave, The Let Go is all about participation,” reads the program, “the more the better.”
Security will search your bag as you enter the building. The windows are blacked out so you can’t see inside. Once you pass through the main door, the music first gets your attention. Or maybe it’s the sparkle. The Armory is a formal space with period rooms — large oil paintings of military officers, intricately carved wood on the walls and ceiling, built-in brown leather seating with nailhead accents, stained glass, painted ceilings, pressed tin walls and chandeliers. It’s curious to hear house music beckoning from the room straight ahead. Then a glint of light reflects off a shiny surface. The Drill Hall is dark and cavernous and the shiny surface is a floor-to-ceiling fringed Mylar curtain. It’s attached to a track on the ceiling and it snakes around the room in an undulating pattern. This is called “chase.”
A lot happens next. The piece is at the far end, then it’s moving towards you, then it’s brushing past you, then it surrounds you, then you’re tangled up in it, and when you push through and bat the curtain away you’ll find yourself in one of the six spotlights on the floor. You won’t be alone. Cave began as an Ailey-trained dancer before moving into visual art. There are dancers here performing along with a number of community groups — yoga teachers, school groups and church choirs. The crowd is mixed, everyone from an older man in a wheelchair to preschoolers running and twirling. You can stand there and watch or take your phone out and snap something for the ‘Gram but really, Cave wants you to let go.
“Back in the day, the clubs felt like the only place I was truly safe and celebrated for being who I was born to be,” he said. “I am using ‘The Let Go’ as a way to share that feeling.”
“The Let Go” is described in the program as a “dance-based town hall,” where New Yorkers can gather and use movement as a cathartic antidote to all of the craziness that’s been going on around the world and closer to home.
“Chase,” combined with the steady thump of house music, provided by a changing roster of DJs, creates an immersive experience. It’s magical and it’s fun. But Cave’s work goes a lot deeper than that. “Chase” is comprised of intentional colors — black, red, and green followed by black and blue — that represent youth of color being chased by the police. The other part of the curtain is gold, silver, and bronze — representing bling materialism — mixed in with rainbow flag colors.
The installation is open on Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., with DJs spinning from 2 to 6 p.m. Cave’s “Soundsuits,” the work for which he is best known, are on display as sculpture during this time in the ornate rooms located off the main floor hallway, known as the Head House. The soundsuits are elaborately constructed of brightly colored raffia, beads, hair, buttons and other found objects and are displayed as sculpture juxtaposed against the stuffy formality of the room decor.
The Soundsuits also have a deeply socio-political intention. They were first created by Cave as a response to the Rodney King beating. On weeknights (Wed,, Thurs., Fri.), they are used in a performance piece called the “Up Right.” Backed by a choir performance, young male initiates remove their street clothes and are dressed piece by piece in a Soundsuit. It’s meant to signify a shamanistic, rite of passage ending in rebirth. After that, we dance.
The participatory nature of the installation continues after you leave. In the program is a stencil with instructions to make your own TLG T-Shirt. There’s also a photo diagram explaining how to learn the “Let Go Line Dance,” choreographed by Francesca Harper specifically to accompany the installation. And there is a list of ways to “let go” generated by New York City high school interns.
“The Let Go” will close on July 1. DJs for the final weekend are Sammy Jo (June 30) and Tedd Patterson (July 1). Admission is free during the regular weekend hours for NYC ID holders.
For more information: www.armoryonpark.org/programs_events/detail/the_let_go