Kylie Boltin discusses DIY Digital director Mike Figgis\'s new photo and video installation, Piazza Di Spagna.
25 Aug 2008 - 2:02 PM  UPDATED 7 Nov 2012 - 4:30 AM

\'Piazza Di Spagna\' by Massimo Vitali and Mike Figgis - a Vito Di Rosa project for agnès b. recently screened in London as part of FILM4 Summer Screen at Somerset House.

This photo and video installation, a collaboration with contemporary Italian photographer, Vitali, is Mike Figgis’ (Hotel, Timecode, Leaving Las Vegas and Internal Affairs) latest split screen configuration created as a fully financed commission by the Parisian haute-couture designer and Galerie du jour owner, agnès b. who also has a production company, O Salvation with director Harmony Korine (Julien Donkey-Boy, Gummo).

Produced over one year, Piazza Di Spagna ( is shot by Figgis on location at the Spanish Steps in Rome with a minimal crew and one actress, Katy Saunders, who plays four different characters each occupying the individual screens. With no dialogue, Saunders is at once a scruffy pick-pocket and elegant ingénue, connected by moments in the soundtrack that link each character. This is open-ended video making, with deliberate focus away from plot. As Figgis said at a Q & A discussing the work in London, 'during that 17 minutes there are moments of synchronicity. She has to pick up the phone at exactly the same time in each character, she has to be happy at the same time in each character, she has to dance at the same time"¦ I was interested in those cues were adhered to, structurally." Figgis used the first day’s take to 'guide the choreography" for the remaining three takes / screens and then in post added strong music cues to actively steer our responses further.

Mike Figgis is a long-standing proponent of a DIY Digital philosophy and is well known for embracing digital technology early. His 1999 film, Timecode – shot on four PD 100s in Hollywood – is notable for its successful use of the 'split frame’. His follow-up feature, Hotel, was shot entirely on DV-Cam and projected onto 35mm.

I must admit that I don’t react to Mike Figgis the same way I do to some of the other artists/ filmmakers who use multiple screens – I’m thinking of New York-based Iranian visual artist Shirin Neshat who regularly presents her work in art galleries with two screens facing one another to construct a binary often understood to explore experiences of exile or the role of women in Islamic society. Or Belgium filmmaker, Chantel Ackerman whose two-channel projection, Femmes d’Anvers en Novembre (Women from Antwerp in November), on one side places women adjacent, silent and contemplative enticing us with extreme intimacy and on the other, opposite side: a face, close up. With Ackerman’s work I am entranced, not by clever musical cues but genuine intrigue about these strangers’ lives.

Of all filmmakers choosing to work in the digital realm though, Figgis is perhaps the most vocal and public about his techniques and with multiple Hollywood features under his belt, is perhaps also the director most comfortable to critique the 'establishment’ which he does, regularly. His inclusive, minimalist, ethos is readily available for all in his book, Digital Film-Making published by Faber & Faber in which he proposes an entirely different way of thinking about filmmaking from the 'relationship between the director and the actors – to the whole filmmaking process."

Writes, Figgis, 'the job of a director is to be hardnosed about the relationship between the script, the desired result of the film, the reality of the budget and the availability of the locations" and 'the real test for anyone who wants to be a director: do you have the patience?"

Until next week"¦

- Kylie Boltin


FYI: Passage (2001) by Shirin Neshat was commissioned by composer Philip Glass who is coming to Melbourne and Sydney in October as a guest of the Melbourne International Arts Festival together with the extraordinary Patti Smith! (