How to turn around an exhibition in one week

Published 26 June 2015

As fig-2 celebrates the halfway mark, we go behind the scenes to find out how its weekly shows are organised.

If organising one exhibition seems hard work, try organising 50 in as many weeks. This is exactly what has been happening at fig-2, an impressive art project that has been putting on weekly shows since January, and will continue to do so until the end of the year.

I join the fig-2 team at the ICA Studio, the project’s home, on the afternoon of Monday 22 June, during the most crucial 24 hours of the week. They are installing the 25th show, which features the artists Prem Sahib and Celia Hempton alongside the dancer Cecilia Bengolea.

Work has been taking place since Sunday. The team have said farewell to the previous show and are starting the installation of the next. They have just five hours to dismantle the works, establish the new layout, reposition (and, if necessary, paint) the movable walls of the studio and have dinner with the new artists to discuss the exhibition.

When I arrive, the team has been at the ICA Studio since 8am and are looking surprisingly perky. Most of the installs for the halfway show are in place, supervised by the technician. There is a strictly timed 20-minute ‘fig-nic’, a healthy lunch courtesy of the co-founder of Outset. As everyone is served succulent sea bass followed by vegan brownies with coffee, the team and artists discuss final preparations. Sitting at the table, it feels like a big family lunch. ‘We do everything together,’ says the fig-2 curator Fatoş Üstek. ‘We spend so much of our time together that, yes, we are like a family.’ Indeed, they work a six- or (more usually) a seven-day week to ensure that every show is of the highest quality.

“We spend so much of our time together that, yes, we are like a family.”

  • Fatoş Üstek
  • Art Fund curator at fig-2

‘I’ve been given carte blanche, and I am positioning myself as the agent who passes that carte blanche to the artists,’ Üstek explains. ‘fig-2 is about unleashing the artists’ dreams or an idea that they have put aside because certain constraints did not allow them to realise it. I expect artists to take risks as I do. That is why 90 per cent of our programme so far has been of new commissions.’

The alarm clock goes off, signalling the end of lunch, and everyone rushes back to work. The cleaner is about to arrive, followed by the photographer. The Sipsmith team will shortly set the bar with cocktails designed by the artists of the week. After a few hours of careful management and some finishing touches, the doors open at 6pm to a flood of visitors.

The next couple of days are devoted to marketing and exhibition-specific events such as tours, talks and performances. Every third Thursday of the month, fig-2 hosts a Phillips breakfast for which the artist is asked to compile the menu in relation to their exhibition. On Fridays, Üstek usually goes for studio visits. ‘We aim to capture the aesthetic and critical currency of our time,’ she says of the project. ‘To do that we need to do a lot of research – studio visits, online research, visit exhibitions. I do as much as I can.’

Does she ever get a break? ‘I try to take Saturdays off, but sometimes that doesn’t happen,’ she says. ‘It is a demanding programme, but it’s such a passion project. I wake up every morning with excitement. It’s a kind of drive that doesn’t leave you.’ Which is just as well since, following a day of show-specific events on Saturday, the team will be back on Sunday night for their critical 24 hours of work installing the next show.

Fig-2: 25/50: Cecilia Bengolea, Celia Hempton and Prem Sahib is at ICA Studio, London SW1, to 28 June.

The fig-2 project runs until 20 December.

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