by Zeynep Rekkali JensenSep 20, 2023
In its 2nd edition, London Sculpture Week (September 16 - 24), endowed the public realm with empowering contributions of leading voices in the contemporary art landscape. London Sculpture Week is a collaboration between four entities: Sculpture in the City, Frieze Sculpture, The Line and the Mayor of London’s Fourth Plinth Programme, which officially commenced the initiative with an opening talk on September 17. Intrigued by the ambitious initiative to democratise the presentation of contemporary art sculptures to the broadest possible audience, STIR spoke to Stella Ioannou, the artistic director of Sculpture in the City, and Fatos Üstek, the curator for Frieze Sculpture, about their practices and their roles in London Sculpture Week 2023.
Ioannou has been responsible for Sculpture in the City since 2010 and is the catalyst for making it London’s largest outdoor annual public art exhibition. Ioannou trained as an architect and a dancer and is currently the director of a London-based creative project agency called Lacuna. Üstek, was formerly the director of the London-based Roberts Institute of Art, and has regularly curated large-scale art exhibitions and art festivals. Üstek recently curated Cascading Principles, a solo exhibition by artist Conrad Shawcross, at Oxford University (until October 8) and was the associate curator of the 10th edition of the Gwangju Biennial in South Korea in 2014. She is also the founder and co-director of FRANK Fair Artist Pay, an initiative for artists which promotes inclusivity and equitability of pay. Üstek has also participated in esteemed jury roles and is internationally acclaimed with public art roles such as the chair of New Contemporaries, an organisation supporting emerging artists, in the UK; a member of the advisory board at the art research institute Jan van Eyck Academie in the Netherlands; and on the advisory board for the cultural institution Urbane Künste Ruhr in Germany.
STIR: What is your curatorial strategy for positioning sculptures in dialogue with London’s architecture?
Stella Ioannou: I came to curating public art having trained as an architect, and so architecture is one of the languages I speak. For me, coming into the City Cluster [an ever-densifying and expanding part of the City of London] 12 and a half years ago before a significant number of the new tall buildings were complete was very exciting, because I knew I was curating for a space that was going to be changing. This particular condition explains why the project is a rotating programme, allowing the project to grow into new spaces alongside the area’s development. Over the years I have witnessed the Cheesegrater, the Scalpel, 100 Bishopsgate and many more buildings come out of the ground and become part of the city’s iconic skyline.
From the beginning it was very important to me to curate the artworks within the context of the City Cluster, which in itself is very urban, large scale and at times can feel quite sterile. In the early years, when we had fewer artworks, we started with high impact works at large scale and ideally in colour which would pop in the relatively grey spaces of glass and steel. Over the years, with the exhibition growing to include up to 20 artworks, we have been able to play a bit more with varying scales and media. This year we have an exhibition of 18 artworks including a piece on the underside of the escalators at the Cheesegrater; a 21m-tall artwork by Arturo Herrera on the façade of a building; a film on a ceiling-mounted LED screen by Mika Rottenberg; and some magnificent 3D pieces by artists such as Phyllida Barlow, Simeon Barclay and Vanessa da Silva.
STIR: London Sculpture Week – in which Sculpture in the City is a partner– is a result of collaboration. Can you give us an insight into how this came about and the goals for this collaboration?
Ioannou: Years of experience have taught me that collaboration is very important in the way that it can amplify, challenge and teach us new things, so I have always run a collaborative practice. As to how London Sculpture Week came about, that's easy: having spent so long working on Sculpture in the City I have met most, if not all, of the other curators who work in the public realm and so this partnership happened through osmosis. At the point when Frieze Sculpture launches in September, all of the other partner organisations also have a show on, making September a great month for a focus on public art. Our goal for this collaboration is to celebrate public art in London and showcase the breadth of work available to see for free in London, as well as to highlight the city’s uniqueness. Each partner project is sited in a very distinct part of London, so all the partner organisations complement each other. When you visit all four projects during London Sculpture Week, you experience four very distinct flavours of this great city.
STIR: What is the selection process leading up to the final display of Frieze Sculpture?
Fatos Üstek: After identifying the curatorial vision for this year’s edition, I reached out to artists and invited them to make new works for Regents Park [where Frieze Sculpture is held]. In parallel, we announced the new vision and held an open call for applications. Along with the director of Frieze London, Eva Langret, we selected works from the pool of proposals. I have frequented the English Gardens [at Regent’s Park] on many occasions, to study the park's current use as well as to meet artists for site visits. I curated this year’s edition like an exhibition, hence the placement of each work is context specific. The sight lines that the park proliferates are multiplied by the placement of the artworks in relation to one another, connected through common threads and artistic sensitivities.
STIR: There must be certain constrictions considering the project is part of an art fair; how does this context affect your curatorial strategy?
Üstek: Even though it operates under a commercial umbrella, where each artwork is backed by a commercial gallery, I approached the project with responsibility towards artists and the wider public who visit the park frequently or as a one off. Through inviting young galleries and young artists, I wanted to expand the demographic of representation and also introduce different scales of artistic production. For some works the artists produced editions and the sales income was utilised for the production of their work in the park; for other artists we received funding from philanthropists and international trusts and foundations. My dream is to bring more support for young, mid-career artists who need additional financial backing to realise their most ambitious works to date. In short, indeed I can only work with artists who have gallery representations, but I try to expand the pool of galleries by drawing in external funds.
STIR: You’re the second curator of Frieze Sculpture since Clare Lilley was appointed for the project in 2012. How have you distinguished your approach?
Üstek: I have built a new vision for Frieze Sculpture, with the awareness of what has been achieved and what else could be brought to the English Gardens. I reflected on the post-Covid-19 condition and its impact on the reception of the public realm, as well as the changing nature of our experiences that are becoming more hybrid with the mass adoption of the internet. Curatorially, I wanted to grow the roster of artists represented in the park and use a wider area than the previous editions. I wanted to invite artists to make new works that are site-specific, site-related and site-adjusted, meaning that they are informed by the context and the defining features of Regents Park’s English Gardens. Last, but not least, I wanted to install a well-trodden path for visitors that is embellished with curiosity, wonder and surprise.
Artistically, I wanted to bring examples of international practices that question, challenge and expand the notion of sculpture, from western and non-western traditions. I also carved out a space for the public programmes, composed of tours, online artist talks and performances. It was important for me to proliferate the access points to Frieze Sculpture and bring artists closer to the public – for instance, for the first time this year we included artists’ voices in the audio guides that inform the visitors, accessible via QR codes on the information boards.
STIR: Was the materiality of the sculptures a determining factor in their placement? Can you share some observations regarding the materials used?
Üstek: I wanted to showcase artistic practices that employ a variety of materials alongside marble, steel and bronze. We have, for the first time, a ceramic piece and a sound installation in the display. We also have work that is available as augmented reality (AR) work. The materiality of sculptures did not determine the placement of the works, rather it was the common threads and conceptual, thematic concerns that played a role.
STIR: How do you intend for the public to interact with the sculptures?
Üstek: We have one work that is specially inviting audiences to touch and read the unscripted words. Temitayo Ogunbiyi’s installation is composed of 48 copper-alloy-cast grinding stones, the number of which symbolises the number of days that it takes to walk from Lagos to London. Each stone is inscribed with a word that the artist offers as a catalyst to set an intention. We also have Gülsün Karamustafa’s Monument for the 21st century as an AR work that can be accessed via QR code and Hans Rosenström’s Unfolding Silence is the first sound installation that makes use of the Echoes app to activate the work.
STIR: You co-founded FRANK Fair Artist Pay, have you been able to initiate any new measures related to financial remuneration for artists involved in this project?
Üstek: At FRANK our focus is to change the conversation and mindset when it comes to understanding and employing fair practice, which is not only fair remuneration but also fair contracts and working conditions. We are building tools that will support the artists and institutions in practising fairness. One of our tools is the FRANK principles, which unpack fair practice in the arts under seven guiding principles. We are also producing an artist questionnaire with one of our founding member organisations Canvas Art Law, which will support artists and institutions to have frank and transparent conversations and to carry the outcomes onto their contractual agreements. Our conceptual fair pay calculator is not going to generate numbers but offer an overall understanding of the expectations from artists and an illustration of the amount of time, labour and professionalism they need to invest in the project. In short, we are not generating a rate-based system but a structure that will support all parties to understand better what it takes to make art happen. We have started the test run of our deliverables with our member organisations and artists, preparing for a nationwide summit to take place in November this year.
Frieze Sculpture is on display until 29 October 2023 in Regent’s Park, London.