Interview: “When you find a piece of artwork on your own terms… that’s when the real magic happens”
We caught up with the acclaimed recording artist, poet, playwright and novelist Kate Tempest, recently named as Brighton Festival 2017 Guest Director - mid album tour - to find out more about her plans for the role
When you were first approached to be Guest Director for Brighton Festival 2017, what was it that prompted you to say yes?
Well, the place that art has in a community is something that I am constantly turning around in my mind because I think it is one of the most important tools that we have for connectivity, for cultivating empathy and a sense of community – it’s a kind of antidote to isolation. For me gathering together to experience artwork is the most important thing that we can do. The most exhilarating moments that have brought me closest to myself and closest to my fellow human beings have been through gathering and watching and feeling and participating in works of art. So, when I was approached by Brighton Festival, the first thing that made me excited about accepting the offer was the possibility of bringing work to people who maybe feel that kind of experience doesn’t belong to them, opening the doors a little bit and just allowing people in.
What are you most looking forward to about the role?
I think the most exciting thing is being able to engage with what it is that makes a piece of work plug you more directly into life. What it is that kind of pulls the ground out from under you then catches you and puts you back on your feet and shows you the universe again. This is the feeling that I have - whether it is from listening to a record or watching a play or whatever it is. And encouraging and cultivating that feeling in everybody, because everybody has this capacity to be connected with this way by literature or music or opera or whatever it is - and just encouraging a celebration of that feeling in a way that isn’t cheesy or patronising. So I’m very excited about trying to encourage the artists that I want to perform here to just run with this idea of being a part of Brighton for these three weeks. And not just Brighton, but also the outlying communities and the neighbourhoods around Brighton – I want to take work outside of the centre of the town and just bring it to people.
You have appeared at Brighton Festival before - what’s been your relationship to the city and the Festival to date? Do you have any particular memories of Brighton and or the Festival?
Yeah - I’ve had a relationship with this place all my life! There was always someone from my family that lived here or close to here. I remember coming here to see gigs when I was younger and getting on the train with pals to come to some of the record stores here. And I had some mates that went to uni here and that were living here and we used to come and party here. As I’ve grown older, getting to play in Brighton Festival was an amazing feeling because Brighton has this reputation as a very open and free thinking town. As a queer woman coming here, the relief that I feel when I step off the train is palpable. It makes me want to cry when I walk around the street and I see loads of women and men and transgender people just holding hands and walking around the street. Honestly I can’t explain the feeling that it gives me, it makes me feel really welcome and safe. So the idea of a liberal town is one thing but actually for me personally to get off the train and walk about and to be like: ‘Wow this is ok, I’m ok here, I’m welcome here you know?’ That is a really important thing.
It's obviously still early days but, what are your aims with Guest Directing Brighton Festival this year?
One of the most important things I want to do is to invite people into spaces they don’t know. I don’t want somebody who’s never seen a classical concert to not go because it is a classical concert and I don’t want someone who only goes to classical concerts to not go and see an incredible contemporary electronic act because they have never done that. I just want to make it a safe space for people to experiment because I think that the minute you give people permission to think of themselves as human beings rather than cleverly bracketed consumers of one particular type of art, then maybe they will have an amazing experience.
Are there any particular artists or dream acts on your wish list at the moment?I’ve got very high hopes. I’ve also got ridiculous ideas that are probably never going to be achievable but the Brighton Festival team are amazing at allowing these ideas into the room and then doing everything they absolutely can to make me feel like these goals are achievable goals. I feel very cared for in this place. I feel like it is a really exciting way of thinking about what I want to present and how I want to present it. And also the idea that this is a collaboration - that I am guest directing and I am here as part of something that already exists.
You are following the footsteps of the likes of Laurie Anderson and Brian Eno in taking on the role of Guest Director. How does it feel to taking on the baton from such company?
It feels great! I really really love both of those artists and in fact Laurie Anderson particularly I think the world of. I think that you can either be cowed by following in the footsteps of big celebrated artists or you can be extremely humbled by it and just recognise that this is an opportunity to do something really great that could honour all the influences that I’ve had from people like them. And I think that goes for everyone in lots of different ways so I try and just think of it in a very humble way and think: ‘Oh I can’t wait to just see what I can get done’.
You will actually be the youngest Guest Director of Brighton Festival to date. What do you think your perspective will bring to the role?
I want to programme some different kinds of things; I think it’s important for me that we bring in younger people. But I suppose my age is kind of beside the point. The idea is beyond age actually. It’s more about allowing and inviting people to connect with a piece of work that they might never have imagined was going to reach them because in that moment that’s when life-changing moments happen. With art that’s when the exciting thing happens, when suddenly you find something on your own terms, that hasn’t been forced down your throat that you haven’t been told that you’re not going to understand. When you find a piece of work on your own terms that way, that’s when the real magic happens.
Your own work straddles many art forms and a unique range of audiences. What drives you to experiment in this way?
I just follow the ideas. I think that the more we try and isolate and bracket ourselves, the less clearly we can negotiate where our ideas, are leading us to. This idea that anybody can be easily understandable by placing a convenient bracket around them, is actually a particularly British idea, and it’s just not workable for me, it doesn’t make any sense. I am in love with language and lyricism - this is my first love - but if I had stopped there then I wouldn’t have been being true to everything that lyricism taught me which is about pushing and understanding and just trying to cultivate new skills.
Do you think that kind of cross art form approach is something you can uniquely explore at arts festivals?
Well especially Brighton Festival because it is everything - you’re programming everything so you have this opportunity to bring people in and break down some of those boundaries. So I am really excited about it. This whole thing about high and low art or divisions between different forms, it’s all nonsense and the minute you allow yourself to see through that nonsense the closer you can get to your experience of art as a human being - doing the thing that makes us the most human in my opinion. Because the way the world feels very inhuman, everything is synthetic - it doesn’t feel real. And then you get this opportunity to experience poetry or music or rapping and rhyming or watching an orchestra - whatever it is there is this connection to humanity that is much broader and bigger than ‘I am a poet and I deal with spoken word.’
And finally, recent political events such as the Brexit vote seem to have highlighted divisions between generations and society more than ever before. How do you feel about the vote personally, and how do you think the arts can help us understand and challenge the world today?
Well, I think that the purpose and the point of art is uniquely cultivating empathy and in creating community, because we are isolated - we are divided from ourselves primarily and so from each other. And, because of these divisions, it is very difficult for us to engage with any sense of community or nationhood or pride in our communities. I think it’s more important for me to talk about what joins us than what divides us. Politics is all about which side of an argument you stand on so that means that somebody is always right and somebody is always wrong, but actually the things that connect us become more important when there is so much to divide us. And, in the face of rising nationalism and all these kind of faceless fears about others that seem to be rearing their heads, it becomes more important than ever that we remind ourselves that there is no ‘other’, it doesn’t exist. And the only thing that can really, really, really make that tangible, I think, for me anyway is music, literature, poetry - these things that bring us together to experience something together which is not about saying anybody is right or wrong.
Kate Tempest is Guest director of Brighton Festival 2017. Her album, Let Them Eat Chaos is out now. Enjoy the trailer...
Brighton Festival names Kate Tempest as Guest Director 2017
Described by The Guardian as ‘one of the brightest British talents around,' Tempest’s prolific artistic output across multiple disciplines has attracted her considerable acclaim and a unique range of audiences. Having made her live debut as a spoken-word artist at just sixteen, Tempest initially conceived of herself as a rapper, however she is now equally at home as a poet, novelist, musician and playwright - garnering extraordinary success in each field.
In 2012 her debut play Wasted (Brighton Festival 2012) was praised as ‘electrifying’ and ‘ingenious’; a year later her self-performed epic narrative poem Brand New Ancients won the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry and completed a sell-out run in the UK and New York, winning a Herald Angel at Edinburgh Fringe. In 2014, her debut solo album Everybody Down was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize while the same year she was named one of 20 Next Generation poets by the Poetry Book Society, a prestigious list picked just once per decade. Most recently her debut novel The Bricks That Built the Houses has earned her yet more accolades and a slot on BBC Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime. In October her highly anticipated new album Let Them Eat Chaos will be released through Fiction Records featuring new single Don’t Fall In.
At 31, Kate Tempest will be the youngest Brighton Festival Guest Director to date, taking the mantle from pioneering artist and musician Laurie Anderson, who led the 50th Brighton Festival this year. Other previous Guest Directors include visual artist Anish Kapoor (2009), musician Brian Eno (2010) and Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi (2011) who have all taken turns shaping the three-week programme of cultural events.
Kate Tempest says:
"The arts should be social, not elitist. They should be part of our everyday life. They should be in our communities, not only on elevated platforms or behind red velvet ropes. Music, literature, theatre, film - these things are so important, they bring us together into the same space, they give us ourselves, they bring us to life, they beam our humanity back to us in all its hideous beauty. And in these times, with the fear spreading everywhere and the divisions between us deepening daily, we desperately need to remember that we are all part of the same thing. Nothing does that for me more profoundly or joyously than standing in the crowd watching a gig, or a play, or a painting. It’s like a little victory you get to keep forever. I want us to offer that experience to everyone.”
Tempest’s appointment as Guest Director follows a number of successful appearances at Brighton Dome & Brighton Festival. After her acclaimed play Wasted sold out Brighton Festival 2012, Tempest performed Brand New Ancients to two full houses in the Corn Exchange as part of Brighton Dome’s spring 2014 programme. In 2015 she headlined an exclusive Brighton Festival event alongside fellow wordsmiths George the Poet and Hollie McNish.
Andrew Comben, Chief Executive of Brighton Festival says: “We are privileged to announce such a distinctive and singular talent as our Guest Director for Brighton Festival 2017. Kate Tempest is uniquely positioned to fulfil the role – her seemingly limitless creativity has led to a body of work that straddles an extraordinary array of art forms and has earned her fans of all ages and from all walks of life. She is also passionate about the arts and its power to bring communities together – vital now more than ever. I can’t wait to continue the conversations with her as we work towards creating a Festival for next year which I hope will be a true inspiration to all.”
In 2016 Brighton Festival celebrated its 50th year of commissioning and producing innovative arts and culture. With a total audience reach of over 225,000, the milestone programme was the most successful in its history with more people engaging with the festival, both as audiences and participants, and more tickets sold than ever before. The Festival’s biggest talking point was Nutkhut’s Dr Blighty, an ambitious, large-scale, immersive, outdoor experience co-commissioned in partnership with Royal Pavilion & Museums and 14-18 NOW, which highlighted the story of wounded Indian soldiers hospitalised in Brighton during WW1. Ending each night with a spectacular light display using projection-mapping, Dr Blighty set the city and social media abuzz and drew audiences of almost 65,000 over its five day run.
Brighton Festival 2017 - which will take place from 6-28 May 2017 - will feature exclusives, world and UK premieres from a wide range of international, national and local artists and companies.
Full programme announced: Wed 15 Feb 2017
Members' priority booking: Thu 16 Feb 2017
General booking opens: Fri 24 Feb 2017
Photo by Hayley Louisa Brown
Video: Full Dr Blighty projections
One of the 50th Brighton Festival’s biggest talking points was Nutkhut's Dr Blighty; an ambitious, large-scale, immersive outdoor experience co-commissioned in partnership with Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove and 14-18 NOW: WW1 Centenary Art Commissions, which highlighted the story of wounded Indian soldiers hospitalised in Brighton during the First World War. Ending each night with a spectacular light display using projection-mapping, Dr Blighty captivated audiences and critics alike. With audiences reaching almost 50,000 over its five day run, it set the city and social media abuzz.
Podcast: Artificial Intelligence, augmented reality and the future of gaming
Brighton Festival 2016 saw us work with Guardian Live in a special partnership to deliver the Books and Debate programme with an impressive line-up of writers and commentators including former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, Orange prize winner Lionel Shriver and two Booker prize winners, Marlon James and Howard Jacobson.
AI, augmented reality and the future of gaming saw games editor Keith Stuart ask a panel of designers and programmers what the advances in artificial intelligence mean for games and the people who play them? If you missed out on the live event or you'd like to experience it all over again you can listen to a new podcast of the discussion which has just been published on the Guardian Live website.
The success of Pokémon Go suggests that augmented reality (AR) games will be big business. Already games like Minecraft can create new landscapes every time you play, while advances in artificial intelligence may lead to computer-controlled characters that can build new stories and activities based on player preferences.
What are the ethical and legal ramifications of AI as it deepens its involvement with people? Could virtual reality gaming ever become like The Matrix? Guardian games editor Keith Stuart talks to a panel of designers and programmers about the strange future of games and their makers.
Listen to the full podcast here
Look back over Brighton Festival 2016 Highlights
Re-live some of the highlights of the milestone 50th Brighton Festival - with pioneering artist Laurie Anderson as Guest Director including the UK premiere of Anderson's Concert for Dogs, Lou Reed's Drones, Floating Points, Laura Mvula and more.
Digging for Shakespeare cast to go under the hammer
The knitted cast of Brighton Festival 2016 commission Digging for Shakespeare are to go under the hammer as part of the Big Heart Auction next month, a partnership between Brighton Dome and Chestnut Tree House children’s hospice, which aims to raise valuable funds for the two organisations.
The twelve Shakespearean characters were immortalised in wool by Welsh knitter Annie Hardy as part of the acclaimed theatrical production which made its world premiere at the 50th edition of Brighton Festival in May. Devised by artist Marc Rees, Digging for Shakespeare took as its subject eccentric Brighton character James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps, a 19th-century joker and world-renowned Shakespearean scholar who lived on the outskirts of Brighton. There in his 'rustic wigwam' (a series of conjoined sheds), he obsessively curated a huge hoard of Shakespearean rarities.
The unique promenade performance took place in the Roedale Allotments, close to the site of the eccentric recluse's former home, and imaginatively involved allotmenteers, the Hollingbury Park Bowls Club and a group of young performers. Audience members explored sheds and hideaways, discovered the Shakespearean characters reborn in knitted form along with quotes featuring herbs and plants from each of the twelve Shakespeare plays, and gathered a wealth of horticultural tips along the way.
Ahead of the auction, the knitted characters will be on display as part of a special free exhibition dedicated to Digging for Shakespeare in Brighton Dome’s Founders Room from 17 to 27 June. Also on show is artwork by graffiti artist Pure Evil which was also commissioned to feature on two specially-built sheds which journeyed through the allotments with the audience.
The individual knitted characters and artworks by Pure Evil will then be auctioned at the Big Heart Auction from 1 to 10 July. For more information please visit www.bigheartauction.org.uk.
All artworks for sale as part of the Big Heart Auction will also be on show at Brighton Dome from 1 – 5 July.
Marc Rees said: 'It's fantastic that the dozen characters can be included in the auction. Annie Hardy spent between 30- 50 hours lovingly creating each figure and all from her vivid imagination too- no pattern, just free form which I think is incredible! They were such an integral part of ‘Digging For Shakespeare’ and everyone wanted to know who made them. It's great to see the figures all together as one family in the exhibition, they are very special and deserve a special home.'
See Brighton Festival Commissions on Tour
This Festival boasted 54 commissions, co-commissions, exclusives and premieres. We're pleased that some of our commissions and co-commissions continue to tour. Discover a bit more about these shows and find out where they are on next...
'Extraordinary piece of memory theatre' ★★★★★ The Stage
See it next: 2 to 11 Jun – Royal Court Theater, LIFT FESTIVAL, London
15 & 16 Jun – Theaterformen Festival, Braunschweig
'Stella is one of the most important pieces to come out of Bartlett's long relationship with Brighton Festival.' Whats On Stage
See it next: 1 to 18 Jun – Hoxton Hall, LIFT FESTIVAL, London
The Complete Deaths
'brilliantly ridiculous’ The Stage
See all the many tour dates here.
Record-breaking 50th Brighton Festival comes to a dazzling conclusion
The three week celebration of the arts was the most successful in its history with more people engaging with the festival, both as audiences and participants, and more tickets sold than ever before.
Drawing inspiration from Brighton Festival’s origins as a celebration of the new and the avant-garde, as well as Guest Director Laurie Anderson’s own multidisciplinary career, the 2016 programme featured the highest number of commissions, co-commissions, exclusives and premieres to date, by some of the most innovative national and international artists the world over: from the UK premiere of Anderson’s own Music for Dogs, a concert specially developed for canine ears to the world premiere of Minefield by acclaimed Argentinian theatre-maker Lola Arias, developed with and performed by veterans of the Falklands conflict.
Laurie Anderson: "I'm so happy to have served as Guest Director of Brighton Festival in its historic 50th year. I have been at the Brighton Festival a few times now and it’s always been fun. I always feel like I’m part of the town and that’s a crazy feeling because at many festivals maybe only theatre people come…. but here everybody comes. I was really struck by that."
The Festival’s biggest talking point was Nutkhut's Dr Blighty; an ambitious, large-scale, immersive outdoor experience co-commissioned in partnership with Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove and 14-18 NOW: WW1 Centenary Art Commissions, which highlighted the story of wounded Indian soldiers hospitalised in Brighton during the First World War. Ending each night with a spectacular light display using projection-mapping, Dr Blighty captivated audiences and critics alike. With audiences reaching almost 50,000 over its five day run, it set the city and social media abuzz. A video clip of the projections went viral, attracting over 500,000 views and accolades such as ‘spectacular’, ‘incredible’, ‘unique’ and ‘best festival event ever’.
At the heart of the 50th programme was the theme of ‘home’, with an abundance of work both about Brighton and by some of the artists who make the city their home. Highlights included The Complete Deaths, a re-enactment of every onstage death from the plays of Shakespeare from Brighton-based artistic powerhouses Spymonkey and Tim Crouch; Digging for Shakespeare - Marc Rees’ site-specific homage to 19th Century Brighton eccentric and world-renowned Shakespearean scholar James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps; Blast Theory & Hydrocracker’s immersive undercover police drama Operation Black Antler and specially-commissioned film Brighton: Symphony of a City, screened to a new orchestral score by Ed Hughes.
Brighton Festival 2016 also explored universal issues and ideas around home, via new work such as experimental composer and musician Yuval Avital’s potent and thought-provoking new work, Fuga Perpetua, which reflected the stories of refugees; and the UK premiere of Berlin’s Zvizdal, a filmic portrait of an elderly couple’s solitude in the region affected by the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
From the annual Children’s Parade on the opening weekend featuring 5000 participants from schools and community groups from across the region, to Onca’s FutureGazers, which asked school pupils to imagine the city in 50 years’ time, to the city-wide City Reads and Young City Reads produced in partnership with Collected Works, Brighton Festival 2016 also saw a record number of community-focussed events throughout the programme with participants of all ages and from all walks of life. And it wasn’t just the humans – 50 dogs found themselves immortalised on a mural on Kensington Street painted by Brighton-based artist and illustrator Sinna One in homage to Anderson’s own dog-oriented events.
Anderson continues: "I think Brighton is really a one-of-a-kind festival. First of all because it’s very sophisticated in terms of what experimental art it brings in but it’s very inclusive in other ways. I can’t really think of another festival that has that broad a base so I would have to say it’s unique.”
Andrew Comben, Chief Executive of Brighton Festival says: “From over-50s company Three Score Dance’s performance of Lea Anderson’s work Tall Tales at the West Pier, to Giddy Brighton’s intergenerational encounter between students from Longhill High School and men and women in their 70s and 80s reflecting on their teenage selves, the 50th Brighton Festival has been a wonderful celebration of our community. We’ve also had more people engaging with the festival, both as audiences and participants, than ever before."
This year’s Festival has once again been a triumph of partnership working, made possible through collaborations with many major organisations across the city and beyond including Lighthouse, Fabrica, HOUSE, University of Brighton, University of Sussex, Onca Gallery, Theatre Royal Brighton, Without Walls, LIFT and 14-18NOW amongst others. 2016 also saw the highest number of shows yet live-streamed to audiences around the world for free, thanks to the on-going partnership with City College Brighton and Hove. Still available to view on brightonfestival.org, highlights include stand-up from Alexei Sayle, magical a cappella singing from choir Vox Luminis and thought-provoking debate Let’s Talk about Death.
2016 also saw Brighton Festival work with Guardian Live in a special partnership to deliver the Books and Debate programme with an impressive line-up of writers and commentators that included a panel debate on the forthcoming EU Referendum and a visit from former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis as well as appearances from an Orange Prize winner (Lionel Shriver) and two Booker Prize winners (Marlon James and Howard Jacobson). Brighton Festival 2016 also saw the return of Caravan, a three-day industry showcase of the best new theatre from across England, which this year featured eight performances open to the public.
Sponsorship and corporate support has been critical to our success this year. New and returning sponsors and supporters include Rampion Offshore Wind, University of Sussex, Gatwick Airport, Brighton & Sussex Medical School, Class of Their Own, Riverford Organic Farmers, Hamptons International, ZSTa, Nutshell Construction, SELITS, GM Building, Griffith Smith Farrington Webb LLP and The Big Lemon.
Andrew Comben continues: "Artist and musician Laurie Anderson, as Guest Director, has been a fitting figurehead for this special milestone having been experimenting, creating and challenging audiences all over the world for almost as long as Brighton Festival has existed. She also told some beautiful and unforgettable stories. In fact, in helping us put together this year’s festival, themed around home and place, Laurie wanted us to help everyone tell their own stories and to focus on some of the people whose stories are less often heard. That we’ve seen such wonderful examples of that during Brighton Festival is something I believe the whole city can be very, very proud of. Here’s to the next 50 years!”
In Pictures: Brighton Festival 2016
The 50th Brighton Festival is almost over, so we're taking a look back at the pictures from some of the shows and events we've loved the most.
Picking out these images put a grin on our faces, and we hope it makes you smile too!
Why not have a look through some more photos from this year's festival and re-live something special?
Photo credits: Victor Frankowski, Adam Weatherley, John Hunter
In Pictures: Week 3
As a fantastic fiftieth Brighton Festival draws to a close, take a look back over the past few days of events. However, it’s not quite over yet though, check out what’s on today.
Photos by Vic Frankowski and Adam Adam Weatherley