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.

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AJ Dehany is based in London and writes independently about music, art and stuff.

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