Mike Figgis: Just Tell The Truth

This September, the Royal Opera House once again plays host to the cross-disciplinary arts festival and we launch our coverage by talking to the curator

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This September, Deloitte Ignite returns for its fourth year with a dynamic cross-disciplinary arts festival curated by internationally renowned director Mike Figgis. For three days the classically decorous environment of the Royal Opera House will be taken over by installations, talks, workshops, screenings and performances by a wealth of leading figures from across the cultural landscape. Collated under the heading “Just Tell the Truth”, the program will include a live presentation by Matthew Herbert of his acclaimed One Pig Story and a studio where you can visit designers Boudicca at work as they create a piece of couture from the lightest fabric in the world.

Produced by ROH2, the contemporary arm of the culture institution, there will be performances and appearances from jazz saxophonist Peter King, Fashion designer Alber Elbaz, Art curator Hans Ulrich Obrist and choreographer Ann Van Der Broek amongst many more. Screenings of exclusively filmed interviews by Mike Figgis talking to John Berger, Marina Abramovic, Paul Auster, Siri Hustvedt and David Lynch, talking about their own perspective on the festival theme, is also on offer. Dazed caught up with Mike Figgis to discuss art and the truth...

Dazed Digital: So tell me about the 'Truth' - why did you chose it as the theme of the festival?
Mike Figgis: I guess around the time the Royal Opera House asked me to curate I had been thinking about the whole WikiLeaks situation, and then there was Ricky Gervais’ stint at Golden Globes which filled me with such glee. I had this feeling that there was something in the air about the truth right now and interestingly enough, I think I got that right. There is a kind of hunger for truth; tell us the truth about phone hacking – just tell us you did it.

Also there is dissatisfaction with politicians just waffling around questions – the classic Jeremy Paxman – You know “just answer the question minister… should I repeat it thirteen times?” Or whatever it was. Then I was thinking about the art market and how corrupt that’s become and how all of our cultures have kind of mashed together into one media sort of cluster funk – which is fine in some ways but from time to time it good to have like a clean out. So then I thought it might just be enough of an inspiring starting point to make for a good weekend.

DD: As the curator of the festival, you are people together but equally perhaps deconstructing the various elements that come together to form an opera- dance, music, design…
Mike Figgis: That’s a really good question or statement, and yes I agree. I think that I am really interested in deconstructing process and yes an opera house although its kind of rooted in lets say predating century material – for the most part - still the process of making performance remains the same, using the same combinations of musicians, designers and so on. The final piece that we are going to do on Sunday I think will be truly operatic. It will combine all kinds of forms and be, I hope, a spectacular mess – really good chaos. There’s virtually no rehearsal six or seven different kind of units combining in one piece – with great enthusiasm. Some kind of master plan but not too tight – it’s going to be great!

DD: What do you think the role of art and artist is in revealing a sense of truth?
Mike Figgis: I think that art came was organically arrived at collectively, in the same way government was arrived at, religion is arrived at groups of people get together and start organising things. We automatically try to express ourselves with our hands drawing. Look at the early cave paintings and they are already kind of impressionistic – already trying to tell stories. What’s kind of pissed me off is that I think art has lost its way a little bit it’s become a capitalistic commodity– people may be saying good things but I think the money has disproportionally put everything out of balance.

DD: You have been totally open to how people chose to respond to the theme. Has anything surprised you or changed your point of view along the way?
Mike Figgis: Not really surprised me, considering who they are, but I was really pleased that we were loosely on the same page. I went up to Manchester to film Marina Abramovic. She said thing like an artist is someone who gets up in the morning and actually can’t do anything but create- that’s what they have to do and that’s how I feel.  And meeting John Berger, I was bitching about how difficult it is to get things made, and distribution and John said ‘You shouldn’t be too pessimistic because never forget the fact that every time you write a book or write a poem or make a film and someone sees it, it will subtly change that person even if they don’t like it.

The next decision that they make will already be affected by what they’ve seen and this kind of subterranean life of a statement or a work of art is the most important thing. I know that, but you end up kind of forgetting it. So it’s nice when you engage with people like Marina and John Berger and so on who  are very passionate and want to talk about their art, the importance of morality, your own personal morality and things like that. I find it reassuring to know that artists still take their responsibilities seriously and they do care about morality and about other people.

DD: Could you pick out a few other things that will be happening over the weekend that you are particularly excited about?
Mike Figgis: I did a flamenco documentary that I will show and I’ve invited the main flamenco artist to come so I think that will also interesting for the audience because there is much discussion now in the dance world about the transition from live performance to into film. Peter King, is an amazing jazz saxophonist that really needs to be shared with a younger audience, is going to do a workshop on what is Bebop. What happened with jazz in the 40s? Then he is also going to play a very contemporary piece with the orchestra. Another thing that had come up in my mind and also with discussions with other artists is the importance of life drawing. So we are going to have life drawing classes all the way through the Saturday and Sunday and I think the dancers are also going to collaborate with the life class.

I see this as being a catalyst and creating an environment where people who wouldn’t normally be in bed with each other creatively can take that opportunity. There is the room of quotations, which is literally going to be filled with quotations about truth, lying, the meaning of truth, personal truth and so on…It started with a quote from Ad Reinhardt ‘art is art; everything else is everything else’, which is one of my favourites and then this John Cage quote saying ‘I have nothing to say and I am saying it’. I love Zen quotes.

'Just Tell The Truth' is at the Royal Opera House in London between September 2-4, 2011 - Keep an eye on Dazed Digital for more pre-event interviews and exciting projects that could involve YOU!

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