Chased by Numbers: The Creation of fig-2

Fatoş Üstek, curator of fig-2, reflects on the genesis of the project

Fatoş Üstek

26 Jan 2015

fig-2 presents 50 projects over 50 weeks in the ICA Studio in association with Outset. A revival of the radical fig-1 project, fig-2 is experimental in its nature, programming projects only a few weeks in advance to maintain as much spontaneity as possible. Here, fig-2 curator Fatoş Üstek reflects on the aims and development of the project for the ICA Blog. 

It has taken me almost half a decade to realise that I have been chased by the number 50. As someone I collaborated with once said, ‘the leitmotifs of our lives manifest themselves as repetitions,’ as eerie and unconventional as it may seem.  

Five years ago I received a commission to select and profile 50 Turkish artists for the European Commission, as Istanbul was chosen to be European Capital of Culture in 2010. A year later, I was commissioned by the Zorlu Centre in Istanbul to edit a book that explores the contemporary relationship between art and architecture.

Unexpected Encounters Situations of Contemporary Art and Architecture since 2000 is published in Turkish only, with a pending English print run, featuring 50 artworks by contemporary artists from across the globe. Mainly authored by myself, the book contains 13 commissioned texts by contributing writers Lorenzo Benedetti, Adam Carr, Max Delany, Jeff Derksen, Jes Fernie, Lorenzo Fusi, Aykut Koksal, Francesco Manacorda, Anna Moszynska, Kathleen Ritter and Arzu Yayintas.

Drawing together a wide selection of artworks that have a strong link with their architectural surroundings, the works varied from million-dollar commissions to grassroots productions. Including artists such as Anish Kapoor, Bruce Nauman, Jenny Holzer, Carsten Höller, Ayse Erkmen, Do Ho Suh, Olafur Eliasson, Cyprian Gaillard, Elmgreen & Dragset, the selection consisted of artworks realised both indoors and outdoors, beyond the realm of traditional monuments, public sculptures and sculptural constellations. The works all share the claiming of a site and the production of a sense of place, intertwining the notions of surrounding and being surrounded and challenging architecture’s utilitarian and functional expectations. 

After profiling the on-going artistic production of built-in environments, elaborating on the contemporary approaches towards the construction of place, I ventured into Burning Down the House. Led by Jessica Morgan, Emiliano Valdes, Enna Bae, Teresa Kittler and I were brought in to examine the potential of art as social and radical movement by exploring the efforts made by contemporary artists to address personal and public issues through individual and collective engagement, as well as demonstrating how challenging these efforts have become. 

This process of questioning important patterns from history and bringing them into the present where they can be activated for radical gestures has brought me to a new challenge. I am thrilled to be invited to create the most unexpected and radical encounters possible, in the form of 50 projects realised on a weekly basis throughout 2015.

One of my aims is for fig-2's structure of 50 successive exhibitions to operate as a catalyst to manifest the aesthetic and critical currency of our times. It is crucial for me that fig-2 emerges as a ground for supporting the production of art, where artistic input and discursive exploration are brought forward with each and every project. I am structuring the program as a holographic constellation so that there will be a consistent thread of production, interrogation, investigation and elaboration that emerges whether you see one project, several projects or visit us every week of the year.

Each project will be a unique component that connects to its predecessors and successors at various levels. Additionally, I am compiling the programme around various cluster points: at times those thematic curatorial investigations will emerge as individual elements, at times they will feed the overall picture. I imagine fig-2 as a composite, formed of fifty complex projects each of which introduce a dimension (or multiple dimensions) to the holographic image of fig-2 that I wish to leave as a trace. 

The rhythm of fig-2 means that it will generate content at various wavelengths, providing engagement that either more deeply interrogates or elucidates a relationship to other concepts of equal complexity. Positioning the art object as an object of encounter as opposed to an object of recognition, the year will cultivate uncertainty and conscious incompleteness.

Even before it began, fig-2 gained much generous support and engagement, from institutional and individual supporters to artists who I have been approaching. It is a privilege to share the enthusiasm and excitement about fig-2. Mark Francis, the curator of fig-1 in 2000, has been integral to the inauguration of fig-2. Candida Gertler, co-founder of Outset Contemporary Art Fund, created the circumstances necessary for fig-2 to become possible. I would not be here without Mark Francis and Candida Gertler's invaluable force and generous support, as well as the support of my colleagues Jessica Temple, Ben Wadler and Irene Altaió. 

Outset also aims to introduce ‘fig-legacy’, wherever appropriate, placing the works created for fig-2 in public institutions across the UK. Alongside their financial support, Art Fund is supporting my curatorial position at fig-2. We will be organising four private curator talks for museum curators and directors with Art Fund Head of Programmes Sarah Philp, in addition to my public eight-part seminar on curatorial practice. 

I could not be more excited to have the ICA's support in hosting fig-2, and by the remarkable faith they have shown in this project without knowing entirely what fig-2 would encompass. ICA Executive Director Gregor Muir and his team have embraced this uncertainty, which is a risky and daring move but indicative of the ICA’s bold attitude and commitment to contemporary art. The ICA Studio has not previously been used as an exhibition space, but as a space to generate and produce ideas, artworks and support structures for the exhibitions at the ICA. It is a challenging and exciting place to be, to think of the history of the space and imagine its immediate future. 

fig-2 will run for 50 weeks in the ICA studio, presenting a new project every week of 2015. ■

This article is posted in: Articles, Blog, Exhibitions

Tagged with: fig-2, Fatos Ustek, Exhibitions, ICA Studio, curator, fig-1