ICA Curator Fatoş Üstek: My London Cultural Diary
Curator Fatoş Üstek discusses the challenges of putting 50 exhibitions on in 50 weeks for the groundbreaking fig-2 exhibition in the ICA Studio
Hiraki Sawa, ‘Lineament,’ 2012, two-channel video, colour, silent customised record player, vinyl record, stereo sound. Sound by Dale Berning and Ute Kanngiesser 18’ 47”. Installation image of fig-2 exhibition. Courtesy of the artist. Photography by Sylvain Deleu
This time around Üstek is on a mission to take that methodology one step further. ‘Fig-1 was mostly one work, a single installation, but fig-2 branches out…we are just adding another layer by inviting more than one artist to collaborate or people of different backgrounds to come.’ But why now? Üstek explains, ‘fig-1 was considered to be a seminal event. So if you are to revive something that had an impact at the time, 10 years or 15 years later is a good time for change’. And with 200 people arriving every Monday at the Institute of Contemporary Arts to christen the latest exhibition, it’s clear that the London audience is ready for this kind of contemporary art show.
The fast-paced changeover of the fig-2 exhibition is firmly in keeping with the pop-up culture of London, with taster sessions of contemporary art each week to tantalise visitors. Üstek speaks animatedly about the audience that fig-2 2015 is enticing to the ICA Mall London address: ‘London is so rich in its happenings that people are used to catching up , it’s not – let’s wait for the weekend - but people also like to do things after work’. Bankers and city types are amongst the visitors sampling these bite-sized (but decidedly complex) portions of contemporary art. Think of fig-2 as the modern 90s rave, which you’d only hear about by getting a message from a friend. ‘That’s the nature of fig-2,’ Üstek laughs, ‘if you miss it - that’s it!’
Laura Eldret, ‘3 | The Juicers’, 2015, various media. Installation image of fig-2 exhibition. Courtesy of the artist. Photography Sylvain Deleu
If nothing fig-2 is immensely ambitious. Each Sunday walls move, screens come down and the space transforms for the next project in the contemporary gallery. The endeavour is overwhelmingly complicated, but with Üstek at the head it seems to be under control. Without a theme as such, Üstek explains that there is an intention that underlies the whole programme. ‘I have several themes…it’s almost like a multitude of different angles from which you can pick up different things’. Pop into this contemporary art gallery in London next month you might discover a performance piece or even a fashion exhibition, the line of a poem or a line drawn down the middle of the gallery space.
Fatoş Üstek has been making her own waves in the art world as associate curator for the 10th Gwangju Biennale in South Korea and as a previous guest tutor at Linköping University in Sweden. Originally hailing from Istanbul, Üstek took time out of her hectic schedule to share all her favourite spots in London.
British Museum - I drop in almost every Sunday to look at a single piece that I pick by using surrealist chance games.
Bonnie Gull on Foley Street. Ask for bad boys, if you go for a meal.
Best-loved walk or view?
Regent’s Park is an all-time favourite, but I occasionally take late night walks around my neighbourhood to explore different parts of the borough.
Greatest meal you’ve ever had in London?
I have been spoiled with amazing meals, but some of my all-time favourites are Modern Pantry in St Johns Square; Plum & Spilt Milk in Kings Cross. And I once drank a vintage red at Ritz Carlton, which felt like drinking clouds!
Charles Avery, ‘We don’t stay here because of gravity we stay because we like it’, 2014, Screen print on paper, 45.8 x 38.2 cm. Installation image of fig-2 exhibition. Courtesy of the artist. Photography by Sylvain Deleu
Favourite local restaurant/bar/pub?
I recently discovered Franco Manca on Tottenham Court Road, a good stop after long hours of work on the way home! I used to frequent pubs on Lambs Conduit Street, but these days I don't have much time for anything except my local or Shoreditch House where I organise Art Talks and sometimes use the gym and rooftop pool.
Most memorable aesthetic experience?
I cannot forget the year I read the Samuel Beckett trilogy, and especially The Unnamable. I was eighteen or so and I remember reading each page as slowly as I could.
For a visual encounter I remember memorizing French photographer Jacques Lartigue's images when I was writing my first published text for Genis Aci, a Photography Art Magazine in Turkey. And whenever I want to remember a nice thought, I think of the bone attached to a coffee cup - Mark Mander's A Place Where My Thoughts Are Frozen Together, 2001.
Fatos Ustek, Art Fund Curator at fig-2. Photography by Sylvain Deleu
Hidden gem no-one else knows about?
London is a treasure garden for hidden gems. I attend Open House almost every year and get to discover so many new things like a masonic temple in the basement of a hotel or a Japanese garden in Kensington.
Best for children?
Where will you be seen this month?
I’ll be at ICA Studio every Monday - not only this month, but the whole year! Otherwise I’ll be on my bike crossing the city for studio visits.
Public/cultural/artistic figure you admire?
I enjoyed every second of working with Jessica Morgan when we were curating the 10th Gwangju Biennial. I also have tremendous respect for the artist Ayşe Erkmen and the imaginative forces at play in her astonishing body of work.