Euro vision

DIY outta London: Kunstraum’s taking a different approach to curating
Art | 8 October 2014

Eva Fàbregas & Andrew Lacon exhibition at Kunstraum, 2014. Eva was a recent graduate from Chelsea MA and Andrew from RCA. Image courtesy Thomas Cuckle at Kunstraum. Image courtesy Thomas Cuckle at Kunstraum

This article is part of Young Art Week – Defining a generation

Welcome to HERO Young Art Week – our essential, multifaceted guide to the new wave of creatives working at the vanguard of contemporary art today. Across a dynamic week of digital content, we’re exploring what’s happening at the epicentre of this global community: from the ground up, the artists themselves and the key figures witnessing the evolution of the ideas, trends and movements defining this art generation.

Thomas Cuckle is a young London curator. He opened Kunstraum, his Hoxton project space, in 2012 – two years after graduating from the MA Curating Contemporary Art programme at the Royal College of Art in 2010. His focus is unconventional for a young gallerist: instead of treading the well-imprinted path of young London galleries supporting young London artists, his focus is on solo exhibitions of artists based outside of the UK, in European cities.

The emphasis on solo exhibitions traces all the way back to his final project at the RCA, in which he reacted against dominant thematics in international curating by working on an exhibition of filmmaker John Smith. It was the first time since the course’s 1992 founding that the graduating show had focussed exclusively on one artist. Today, Cuckle is rising up new young artists and in the process binding new relationships with interconnected art scenes across Europe.

HERO: Why did you decide to focus your gallery on artists residing outside of the UK?
Thomas Cuckle: It’s founded in an excitement about the many vibrant art scenes outside of the UK which can be accessed in just a few hours on a train. I feel like there are a lot of great artists in Europe who are unknown to a UK audience or we haven’t yet had a chance to see here. Also London is full of great cultural activity and when I set up Kunstraum I explicitly wanted to add something new to the landscape, and not to replicate something which was already accessible.

TN: Is it also about helping these artists break into London?
TC: The mission of Kunstraum is not so much to help artists be exposed to London, but rather to expose us in London to what is happening in Europe. I don’t think the artists Kunstraum shows need London, but we need them. I hope that when you see an interesting exhibition at Kunstraum you want to get up and explore the other art scenes around the world. Along the road of building an international community, inevitably there would be more opportunities for interesting young artists to be seen! Whether emerging or well established, what I appreciate is entering into an ongoing conversation with an artist; we have so much to gain from that working relationship alone.

Allan Steffen Robert ‘Sniper on the Sun’, 2014. From the exhibition ‘Flirting, playing, eating, drinking, talking, laughing’ at Kunstraum, featuring young artists from Copenhagen.

TN: How would you describe the young and emerging art landscape in London?
TC: Well the ‘scene’ can be really trend oriented, which isn’t necessarily a good climate to make work within. Also there are a lot of galleries out there looking for young talent, so it could easily becomes overly commercial. In the political climate at the moment it may feel that making your work ‘sellable’ is the only way to go, but despite the cuts there is still support out there for interesting projects! At the same time in London there are a lot of people gathered around alternative modes of practice, finding new ways to navigate, and that is really exciting!

TN: How was your experience launching your own space as a recent graduate?
TC: I think the greatest challenge of starting a project like Kunstraum is to have a big enough vision for where you want the project to go, and the confidence that you can actually achieve it. That’s something I’ve been building and developing since I first launched the space. I have always had big ambitions for which artists I wanted to work with, and when I started approaching artists I received a really positive reaction; if it wasn’t possible to work together right away they were always supportive and open to starting a conversation. A lot of confidence also came from working for other galleries, and realising just how much can be achieved with small budgets and a short timeframe.

TN: What are the main challenges of being a young curator today?
TC: A big challenge I think is getting people to take a chance with your ideas, both in getting invited to curate shows, and getting the artists you want to work with on board with your thinking. There are a lot of great projects out there being developed by young curators. I would love to initiate a forum for artists and curators to present the things they are thinking about, researching, working on at the moment. That space is being created, for instance in Chisenhale’s 21st Century programme, but it’s something we need more of.

‘Coloured Lights’ by Andrew Lacon, part of the Eva Fàbregas (Chelsea MA 2013) and Andrew Lacon (RCA MA 2011) exhibition at Kunstraum, 2014. Image courtesy Thomas Cuckle at Kunstraum

‘Coloured Lights’ by Andrew Lacon, part of the Eva Fàbregas (Chelsea MA) and Andrew Lacon (RCA MA 2011) exhibition at Kunstraum, 2014

TN: Have you found that there is support for projects like your own available? Is there enough?
TC: Thinking about financial support, that is only just coming through for Kunstraum in the past months, with grants from Arts Council England, The Elephant Trust, Mondriaan Fund and the Dutch Embassy in London. But I received some good advice early on to focus on working with interesting artists and developing great projects, and to know that is what funders will want to support. I believe that great ideas win through in the end. I had a lot of moral support and a supportive audience of course, even though it is a very crowded cultural landscape out there. There are a lot of other great projects which your audience wants to support as well, and I am really happy with the response I have been getting.

TN: If you could show one emerging artist next, who would it be?
TC: Well the next few exhibitions I am working on are with artists who are already well established in Europe, but haven’t shown extensively in London. First off is Amsterdam-based artist Nicoline van Harskamp who, as part of her exhibition at Kunstraum, is producing a live translation of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion on 18th October. Each of the readers will have a copy of the play in their own mother tongue and will be asked to translate into English; its part of van Harskamp’s ongoing project on the many ‘Englishes’ spoken by people around the world.

There are lots of emerging artists I meet in London who I would like to work with but because of Kunstraum’s non-UK focus I don’t have the opportunity. Seeing the MA shows recently one of my highlights was Dorine van Meel, a recent graduate from Goldsmiths whose sound and video projections broke the logic of the institutional space in which she was working.

Nicoline van Harskamp shows from 25th October to 6th December 2014 at Kunstraum, 15a Cremer Street, London E2 8HD. The live translation event will be held on Saturday 18th October, 12-8pm. For more info, visit Kunstraum’s website.

Stay tuned for more HERO Young Art Week content in the coming days and plug into our social media platforms for updates as they come.


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