Fatoş Üstek wears many hats. Her impressive career includes curating the Miart Talks in 2018 in Milano, Art Night in 2017 in London, being an external member of acquisitions committee for Arts Council Collection (2018-2020), contributing editor to Extra Extra, chief-juror for the Celeste Prize 2017, and associate curator for the 10th Gwangju Biennale in South Korea among many other responsibilities. She is currently director and chief curator of DRAF (David Roberts Art Foundation). The
On the occasion of the unveiling of Do Ho Suh’s new public art project, she catches up with Art is Alive about her fig-2 initatives staged at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, her involvement with Art Night and what makes a good curator.
Please tell us about your career path, what brought you to curation?
Curiosity led my way and my passion for art. I did not study art as major, however I hold a postgraduate degree in Contemporary Art Theory from Goldsmiths. I have been working with artists on various capacities before I started curating, assisting them in their projects, translating, subtitling, supporting in editing etc. While working with artists I was also writing and publishing on art at various art magazines in Turkey.
Can you tell us about fig-2 and fig-futures please?
With pleasure. fig-2 is one of the largest projects I have taken on aboard. Curating 50 consequent exhibitions in 50 weeks until the Christmas break in the year 2015 was an attractive challenge.
The exhibitions took place at the ICA Studio, varying from installations to process-based shows, with 90 % of them being new commissions. We had mobile-wall structures that we would move each week to provide the space the art necessitated; we would produce stamps designed by artists to adorn our frequent visitors’ loyalty cards and offer custom-tailored gin cocktails that resonated with the exhibition designed by the genius Sipsmith Independent Spirits team.
Most significantly, I had the pleasure of working with 60 artists and actors from the UK and Europe, with 405 contributors to all our projects and an incredible curatorial team: Yves, Jessie and Irene.
fig-2 was set to capture the aesthetic and critical currency of our times, with the aim to depict the art that excites and moves us, and with the potential to speculate what future awaits. Today with excitement, I am proud to announce that the fig-2 alumni artists are showing more extensively in the UK and across the globe. The artistic practices and approaches we showcased at fig-2 receive primary attention. Fig-futures is a major outcome of the ripple effect fig-2 triggered. Art Fund supporting my position at fig-2 led to 8-part curatorial seminars as well as the Art Fund Curatorial workshops that myself with Sarah Philp and Robert Dingle organised. Three all-day workshops for directors and curators of major UK institutions to attend with bursaries. 37 art professionals engaged with fig-2 as a new curatorial approach.
With Candida Gertler and Outset, which also made fig-2 happen, we conceptualised a structure: a new collecting scheme. Started in 2018, this new scheme comprises 16 exhibitions taking place at four different art institutions (Grundy, Blackpool; Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge; The Gallery, Leicester; Plymouth Art Centre, Plymouth) in the immediate aftermath of which new works will be joining public collections (Grundy, Norwich Castle Museum, The Gallery and The Box) in conversation with the artists, curators of the respective shows and collections.
We have raised the substantial amount with further support from the Arts Council England, to enable the production of the new exhibitions and acquisitions. The fig-futures artists are Oreet Ashery, Anna Barham, Ruth Beale, Rebecca Birch, Broomberg & Chanarin, Patrick Coyle & Francesco Pedraglio, Laura Eldret, Kathryn Elkin, Eva Grubinger, Ben Judd, Allison Katz, Charlotte Moth, Eva Rothschild&Joe Moran, Amy Stephens, Annika Strom and Suzanne Treister.
What is the publication about?
Fig-2 publication brings together material from the eponymous arts programming of 50 projects in 50 consecutive weeks, staged at the Institute of Contemporary Arts throughout 2015. The publication is an embodiment of all the projects, events and activities that fig-2 generated, complemented by specially-commissioned essays and conducted interviews. These reflect on and respond to the conceptual framework and ambition of fig-2 in capturing the aesthetic and critical currency of our times. The title includes specially-commissioned essays and interviews with prominent art world figures including Louisa Buck, Caroline Douglas, Gilda Williams, Catherine Wood and Hans Ulrich Obrist, with an introduction by Mark Francis.
In general, what’s your biggest challenge when curating and exhibition?
Health and Safety Regulations and partners who are not willing to take risks.
The exhibition you’re most proud of?
I am proud of all of my projects, it is important for me to mean everything I do and produce: from a small exhibition text, a conversation with an artist to a major biennial like 10th Gwangju Biennial of which I had the pleasure of being part – in the curatorial team – under the artistic direction of Jessica Morgan.
Please tell us about Art Night, what was your role last year and how do you work now?
Art Night is one of the most special projects I have realised to date with an incredible team of amazing women. We took over East London, scooping a 1-km radius area from Shoreditch Overground Station to Tower Bridge, with an astonishing array of venues lined up to be cared by contemporary art practices throughout the night of 1st July in 2017. Alongside our magnificent artists and exciting works, we also had a prolific contribution from the borough where 60 associate projects took place during the night initiated by local artists, curators and initiatives.
Now, I am working on a supporter capacity as a trustee of Art Night. I’m still curatorially involved I the project since one of the Art Night 2017 commissions is about to be unveiled on 24 September. This is a large-scale commission, a UK premiere by Do Ho Suh with an amazing array of partners, co-commissioned by Art Night and Sculpture in the city, generously supported by ARKO and KCCUK, Outset, and further supported by Simmons & Simmons, Victoria Miro and Lehmann Maupin Galleries. I am thrilled to see the piece installed on the Wormwood Bridge, in the City of London, and cannot wait for its unveiling.
Please tell us more about your new role at DRAF and how you’re impacting the existing activities?
It is an exciting period for me, after being an independent practitioner for almost 15 years I have taken a role at an art institution. I am working towards defining the new phase at DRAF (David Roberts Art Foundation), our motto and what the future holds for us as a foundation with a collection. The future is collaborative, and I would like to explore the variety of means in a collaboration, also expand to UK wide institutional partnerships, while fostering new thinking and creativity in all manners of visual practices.
How many works does the collection have?
We have an extensive collection of works, over 2000 pieces by amazing artists.
What are the next DRAF projects?
We have exciting projects coming up. Our 11th Curator Series project by Victor Wang is unveiling on 27th September at 111 Great Titchfield Street with seminal figures from the 60s and 70s Asian contexts, public classes at Nottingham Contemporary, Soas and Asia House, accompanied by a reader which includes unpublished texts in English on Asian performance art.
I am also curating our 11th evening of performances at KOKO in Camden. We have just announced our artistic line up and sent a save the date for 2nd October. I am incredibly excited about the whole evening. It will be a night not to be missed (again) and this time it will exist in reality and fiction. Fiona Banner has published the event with an ISBN number, our incredible line up of artists include eight new commissions by Bob Kil, Stacy Makishi, Tate n Lyle, Martin Creed, Charismatic Megafauna, Fiona Banner and Das Hund; alongside a UK premiere by Alma Soderberg. During the night we have 16 acts that respond to the notion of intimacy and I can assure you a thrilling ride!
All our events will be free and open to all.
Which qualities do you need to be a curator?
Knowledge of arts is crucial, also to always keep learning and never arriving at a place. Additionally, I think it is important to know yourself, what your sensitivities are, your tendencies and your attitude towards the unknown.
Your dream projects?
Where I am right now is what I dream. And I have some other dreams that hopefully will unfold in the future…
Who are your heroes?
I don’t have heroes, but I am inspired by many people and many positions. Jessica Morgan, Ayse Erkmen, Ingeborg Bachmann, Clarisa Pinkola Estes, all the artists I work with, my colleagues from all the different projects they all inspire me. Lastly, being alive is inspiring in itself.