Art Fund Curator Talk #1 at fig-2: Instituting the Social (22 January)

Instituting the social

Curator Fatoş Üstek held the first of eight seminars intended to explore curation and curation as an artistic expression, and to develop the themes of the fifty-week fig-2 project as they emerge through the course of its fifty one-week installations.

She began with a note that the same work becomes a different or new work in a different display context. Thus the curator has a significant role in the recontextualisation of art. I think this could be an interesting theme for fig-2 in that some of the works will be existing works recontextualised for this show, or new or unfinished works created for fig-2 at the ICA studio space which will later be recontextualised or even reimagined. There is a good example of this from fig-1 where “Anish Kapoor tried out some things he knew he couldn’t show in a regular gallery. It wasn’t until over a decade later that he developed some of those ideas into the huge inflatable pieces he exhibited at the Grand Palais in Paris a few years ago.”

Questions: What is an institution as a denominator of society? What is an art institution? What is a social imaginary? What are the imaginative forces in a society?

Üstek discussed how the production of the symbolic and the experience of the symbolic are a function of the artistic imagination, existing as a “sum of functions” and a “society beyond that sum” with artistic languages creating a universe of realms. Her dizzying example of “language creating a universe of realms” was the example of ‘the example’ – whereby the example stands for a real thing but is not itself real. Yes, her example was the example of the example. 

She moved from this discussion of the symbolic order and how artistic production and curation contribute to it, and answered a question about how this related to fig-2. One of her curatorial aims is to explore what the currencies are that we are being fed by, and whether there is a different relation to object/image/etc today than there was during fig-1 fifteen years ago. This first theme concerns the nature of artistic creation, and the latter the phenomenology of perception. But there is a key interest in the connection between the two, that as well as perception there is the motivation of gestures that go into the production of meaning.

Questions: London is a finance capital, fast and protean. Pop-up shops are very current, but are they particular to London? Could fig-2 take place in a slower city? Given the apparent immutability of certain institutions such as the law or religion, could fig-2 be an institution that could speed up the development of art?

Üstek noted that fig-2 is not the first pop-up model in art. Indeed, since the fig-1 the pop-up model has become widespread and much imitated. Üstek herself even curated an artist-run space in Istanbul that showed five artists an evening in 15-minute slots. The one-week turnaround is comparatively sedate.

The influence of institutions, she noted, is that these spaces, take Tate Modern for example, they legitimise what is defined in society as art. I had a thought about ascription and acceptance. Ascription can define what is art at the level of practice, for example in taking an objet trouvee and saying it is an artwork it becomes art (Duchamp’s urinal, say), but acceptance only comes once this ascription has been accepted by an institution, such as when a gallery has put it on display. Just ascription is not enough for ‘work’ to become ‘art’.

This, however, is in a sense what fig-2 is cutting against with its experimental approach and rapid turnover of work. Üstek made a point about functionality and seriousness. Freedom from ‘seriousness’ and ‘functionality’ without the need to legitimise ‘what is art’ is what gives artistic creation its vibrancy. In my own experience the greatest frisson has come from those works where we are not entirely sure if what we are experiencing is ‘art’ or not. Established institutions are more beholden to existing notions, so their power to legitimise what is art is delimited by the problems of their size and their need to represent for the most part existing notions, with only a small (but important) remit for completely new defintions of art. Perhaps more critical at an early stage of an idea or movement or work’s development is the “non institutional institution” such as ad hoc spaces.

Hiraki Sawa was present and noted that exhibiting or creating work for fig-2 is quite different to a group show, which is the more familiar curatorial format for most artists given the opportunity to exhibit work. In fig-2 there is linear movement,a constant changing in the space resulting in a different focus of attention to a group show. The artist is given complete attention but for a short time, rather than divided attention for a longer period.

Üstek accepted this and expanded on it, noting that she expected there to be a “continuum” over the course of the 50 weeks, giving a “subliminal constellation of meaning” with threads continuing through the whole year, like in Salman Rushdie’s Haroun & The Sea of Stories. She is “interested in stretching a line” and referred to Hiraki Sawa’s work for Week 3 in which there is literally a line going through the whole film (string, thread is a key symbol in the work) which is cyclical and changes and modifies dimensions. We have also seen that in Week 2 where Charles Avery plays lines against each other to spill over between 1-, 2- and 3-dimensional space. In Week 4 there will be the poet Simon Welsh and, in poetry, a quite different conceptualisation of the ‘line’. We look forward to a “composite picture in my head; each project stands for itself but also for the whole.” Üstek concluded with a reminiscence about Douglas Coupland’s comments on Translit, that we live in a time that contains all styles of all times at one time. I look forward to returning to this idea in greater depth over the coming year as the continuum takes shape.

Questions: How are you documenting the (fig-2) project?

The fig-2 website has interviews, photos, links, and a live archive. There will be a book at the end, which will not just document fig-2 but will expand on what happened, and become another mode of encounter with the works.

Next time: Seminar #2 on responsibility, date tbc.

Week 3 – Hiraki Sawa – January 19-25 – Lineament (2012)

“A boy shuts his eyes for a moment. When he wakes the world he once knew is gone. His room is an unfamiliar place. His language has failed him. he has forgotten everything and everyone he ever knew. Gone. The world he now lives in is one of lost things.”


From this terrifying conceit, Hiraki Sawa’s two-channel film “Lineament” draws us into a surreal world of dream-like continuity and disjuncture, in which we are taken from the familiar world and into the logic of the film. In the same way, in the corner of the ICA studio there is a record player playing the sound, a palindromic score, and on the screen we see the same record in different situations, playing on a beach, held up to the ear to try to listen to it without playing, or merging into someone’s head like a halo, or being played in strange rooms.


Curator Fatoş Üstek has spoken of a desire to create a “continuum” through the 50 weeks of fig-2, with threads continuing through the whole year, incrementally resulting in a “subliminal constellation of meaning.” One of these threads is this week literally represented by thread. Throughout the film we see black string stretching between spaces and experiences. We see the vinyl record being played and as it is played, the outer grooves come away as string stretching off elsewhere, visually dramatising the ephemeral act of listening/apprehension as the vinyl disappears into thread, drawing off a three-dimensional artefact into two-dimensional string vanishing into the single dimension of a vanishing point.

This is itself interesting and beautiful, but it also ties into a primal theme in the production of art: the line. This is where it all began. Recent cave art has discovered abstract line drawing created by neanderthals half a million years ago, and pretty much all of what we think of as visual art can in some sense be reduced to ‘the line’. Cubism developed Cezanne’s theory that be everything could be broken down into cylinders, spheres & cones (lol note: not cubes). He thought these could then be shown to recede to a central point; note that another contender for oldest identified work of art is a single red dot made 40,000 years ago.


Fatoş Üstek has identified “stretching a line” as one of the themes of her intended “continuum” for fig-2. For Week 4, and, wait for it, next in line, we look forward to the poet Simon Welsh, whose basic building block for poetry is, of course, another kind of line.

What Hiraki Sawa does with his line is to desconstruct multi-dimensional space (ie. the record disintegrating into string) and then to repattern it according to a dream-logic that works by visual association and transformation. We see the string proliferating into series of lines coming down a wall. We see beautiful webs forming, which are then echoed by images of chandeliers and clocks and gears, radiators and plugholes. These are the visual vocabulary of the film, elements which are repeated in different configurations and which echo or transform into each other.

The string is pulled into strange machines made of outsized old-fashioned clock parts, which then join with the central character of the film, not physically but compositionally; we also see him as a soft machine with the string going into his head and out again through the ears.

The film enacts an attempt to reconstruct memory by contructing a new (sur)reality out of these abandoned objects all connected by a thread that is symbolic of silence: when the vinyl record has turned to string, all this is left is this connecting material, which is in turn symbolic of the order of meaning-making whereby, according to poststructuralist theory, objects (such as words) do not have inherent essences but are used to create meanings that exist between them rather than arising out of them.

This is how we construct and reconstruct reality every single day, constructing and reconstructing the present out of the forgotten lost things of the past. In the same way, I have constructed an at-this-precise-moment meaning for the film “Lineament” by connecting the objects according to ideas I am familiar with, arising from what they bring up from my memory. But really there is only the line, and clocks, and rooms, and the objects in those rooms. What they mean is whatever you can make them mean by drawing connections out from your amnesia. And now, perchance to sleep. The point about a nightmare is that you wake up.




3rd stamp of 50 on the loyalty card:loyaltycard3

Link to fig-2 website for Week 3:

Week 2 – Charles Avery – January 12-18 – Untitled (Dihedra)

Charles Avery’s project for week two of fig-2 is now called “Untitled (Dihedra)” following the ubiqituous ‘Untitled (Title)’ format that never gets old.  I like the original working title “Ghosts Circumnavigating A Trefoil Knot”, from the sketch for the looped film that comprises the three-chambered heart of the work:

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Ghosts are sexy, though not as sexy as maths. Avery describes the work as “highly mathematical.. a distillation of different dimensions” intended to form an intersection of different spatial ideas. It sexily comprises several elements demonstrating these: hexagonal floor tiles in a 2-dimensional Euclidian plane, a cage which when projected against gives the line in one dimension across the wall, and then, projected from a noisy old ELF film projector, two pairs of dihedrons (two isosceles triangles together, in the shape of a bird) circumnavigating the path of a trefoil knot. The trefoil knot is made of one line weaving round on itself through a three-leaf clover shape (see above sketch).

The work feels Duchampian, mathematically precise, but there’s more to it than just geometry-porn. There’s us. On the outside of the enclosed projection space there is a framed statement “we don’t stay here because of gravity we stay because we like it”:

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This is initially puzzling in relation to the rest of the work, but is a big clue, intended to underline the centrality of our subjectivity in relation to the qualities we perceive in objects, rather than in the objects ourselves. Avery says “the cage represents the structure… in concrete terms, and the viewer brings the subjective element, which is the ghost.. which inhabits that structure.”

We are on the ground not because of the theory of gravity, but because we choose not to fly.  The ghostly projections of the bird-like dihedrons flapping around their trefoil have no choice in the matter; they are mechanical, mathematical. They are shadows made from the absence of light from the projection of film. They have no substance, even as light. They are ghosts. Ghosts are defining liminalities: both presence and absence at once. We as objects are abidingly present (unless you choose to “refute it thus” and break your foot) but our perceptions, and by extension the ‘quality’ of any perceived object, are liminal, ghostly too.

Avery says “the ghost of this being that inheres in objects is a lot to do with my idea of art as quality not as an object.”  Thus the work is only formally Duchampian, mathematical in its means, but really it’s an attempt to apprehend where we are in the world of things: what it all means to be yourself, the viewer, the ghost in the machine.

The final irony is that we thus become prisoners of our own subjectivity, little better than dihedral birds, ghosts circumnavigating a trefoil knot. Though that’s just my subjective view.

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Official fig-2 page for week 2:

Interview with Charles Avery concerning the work:

Week 1 – Laura Eldret – January 5-11 – “3 | The Juicers”

The ICA Studio Space is found up a grimy set of concrete steps, following water and gas pipes, past an electrical trip-box and prophetic graffiti and a neon sign announcing “fig-2”. Stepping through a crack in the wall you feel you’re leaving the white cubes of WC1 and attendant bookshops, and stepping into one of those perennially doomed East London warehouses that traditionally showcase new contemporary art’s heady mixture of roots level art practice and sophisticated partying.

I mean, we learn that the ICA Studio Space “was once squatted and became the base for attacks on the ICA finance department; it housed an anarchist press, and Jean-Michel Basquiat used to get stoned there.”

As I go up those intimidating hard steps through the guts of the ICA, I’m not expecting to find myself in Warhol’s Factory, nor blinking in a smoky Berlin-in-the-eighties squat happening soundtracked by Einsturzende Neubauten… but, do you know what? Dear reader, in the interests of suspense, I’m not going to tell you just yet. Exciting!

Regarding this first of fifty weekly projects under the overall banner “fig-2”, curator Fatoş Üstek says “The first show will be an installation of ideas and the last will hopefully exhibit the finished work – although at this stage we, obviously, have no idea what that finished work will be.”

Laura Eldret is first up. Her CV says “Her practice explores social formats by looking at divergent aspects of how groups of people gather. She explores the agency of art within this broad cultural sphere, and is interested in aesthetic elements that bind people together.”

The artist spent late 2014 researching, documenting and making work in a pueblo in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico, and has presented, for fig-2 wk1, some rugs and some drawings. The imagery involves basketballs and juicers. In terms of socially integrative images, the Mexican juicers are suitably exotic to my English eye, and the basketballs are recognizable, but also alien. Perhaps this is the key point about shared cultural imagery, that even between continents we can recognize (ie. name) certain elements, even if they don’t have a specific meaning or personal relation to the viewer. Basketball to me is recognizably and abidingly western, but not part of my life. This is perhaps what could make it more interesting to think about than an image I know more intimately, such as the view from the bottom of a bottle of Guinness or the back of the dole queue on a Monday morning, or even one of those cards of a dog dressed up as Santa.

I admire the curators of fig-2 for opening with a staunchly unfinished show; it shows a long view that I had hoped they would pursue. We await with interest the results of Laura Eldret’s Mexican ethnography. I wonder if the curators of fig-2 will publish updates in the mean time. At this stage, it’s deliciously unclear how the whole fig-2 50-week metaproject will pan out.

Until next week, mind your head and try not to trip over a Basquiat on your way down those cold hard steps back to your warm white London life.


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What is fig-2?

In 2000, curator Mark Francis created fig-1. The idea was to present “a series of exhibitions and events in a small space in the centre of the city, each lasting a week. Not accountable to any institution or to commercial pressures. Free of sales, storage, shipping, dinners, mailings, not for profit, no bureaucracy or infrastructure. Experimental, energetic, epic.”

The participants included many familiar names – Richard Hamilton, Howard Hodgkin, Bridget Riley, Jeremy Deller, Grayson Perry, Wolfgang Tillmans – as well as people active in disciplines beyond ‘fine art’. Will Self wrote a set of stories, live on a big screen, about the people who came in to watch him write a live set of stories. I remember hearing about this at the time and thinking it was pretty cool, especially since it exasperated my friends.

In 2015, London-based Turkish independent curator Fatoş Üstek is curating fig-2 at the ICA. “I have a trans-disciplinary approach to art – I’m from a science background myself – and I’m interested in all aspects of knowledge production. Every project will be very different, and there will be dancers, designers, singers, poets and writers as well as artists. I hope that if you experience just one of the 50, or all of the 50, or part of the 50, you will have some experience of the whole, in that the year will be a massive exploration of the critical and aesthetic currency of our time.”

I’m going to try to visit all 50 weeks, and write a bit about each. Just because.

For a full outline of the fig-1 and fig-2 projects:

The official fig-2 website is here:

The ICA fig-2 page is here:

You can sign up to the weekly fig-2 newsletter here: