London Art Pitch

Why London? Four Expats—Artist, Curator, Gallerist, Scholar—on Working in the British Capital

London Art Pitch is a monthly column by Jamie Sterns, a New York curator and writer attending school in the British capital.

London. Say the word, and many things come to mind: bad weather, double-decker buses, fish and chips, his and her highnesses, and an emphasis on “keeping calm.” The U.K. and U.S.A. quaintly refer to their distance from each other as being “across the pond,” and there is undoubtedly a closeness between the two countries. London has a particular draw for those from the States, and elsewhere around the world. Maybe it’s the free (actually free) health care or the thousands of years of culture, or it’s the accents—who can say definitively? What I can say is that after living here for only a few months, London is one of the most cosmopolitan cities I have ever visited or lived in. There is a blending of people, cultures, habits, foods, music, taste, and style—a meshing versus melting, and that rubbing up against and friction is what makes things spark and makes a city have its pulse, energy, and rhythm.

To begin this monthly column I want to give a flavor of what it is like to be an expat in the London art world. Being an outsider is a peculiar and, at times, liberating position to be in, as things feel distant while also having a quality of newness. This distance allows for a type of reflection that merits a sense of meaningfulness, while the newness spurs energy and stamina for exploration. To illuminate the London expat experience I have invited an artist, a curator, a gallerist, and a scholar—newly arrived, newly established, or transitory art practitioners—to reflect on this, shedding light on their reasons for being here, and explaining what they are doing.

T.A.G.'s Crystal Catalyst Long Sleeve Top.COURTESY THE ARTIST

T.A.G.’s Crystal Catalyst Long Sleeve Top.


Leslie Kulesh

Born 1982, originally from Los Altos, California. Recent project: T.A.G., Temporary Autonomous Girl, a capsule collection of garments that protect the wearer from electromagnetic frequencies. Lived in London: 5 years.

Q: What are you currently working on?

A: Currently finishing production of a solo show at Et al. in San Francisco, opening on April 3. I’m also an associate at Open School East here in London throughout 2015 where I’m developing a signal-blocking wearable, continuing from Temporary Autonomous Girl, a signal-blocking edition I launched last fall.

Q: Why London?

A: Alongside some of the best galleries are artist-run projects, lectures, and community meetings—all anchored in contemporary art and theory. And then there’s funding…from government money! An exotic thing to a child of the Reagan era.

Q: How has being in London influenced your art’s aesthetics and/or exposure?

A: It’s been amazing—most obviously, there’s being “the other.” As a woman from California, there’s always been an element of performing my identity abroad. An expectation that can be fun to play up in order to examine stereotypes. I hosted a series of live artist TV shows called Auto Italia Live between 2010 and 2012 where my character became increasingly post-net and New Age at once.

Q: Any advice or recommendations for expat artists new to the city?

A: Go on lone-wolf day trips exploring the city. If your hosts are local, they’ll have their neighborhoods, just like in any city, but London is huge, and the freedom of not being from here is not being tied to any particular area. Having special spots that you’ve found on your own is how the city starts to become yours.

Installation view of 'Wearing Potentiality' at Paradise Row, curated by Attilia Fattori Franchini in 2014.COURTESY PARADISE ROW

Installation view of ‘Wearing Potentiality’ at Paradise Row, curated by Attilia Fattori Franchini in 2014.


Attilia Fattori Franchini

Born 1983, originally from Pesaro, Italy. Independent Curator,, part of Seventeen Gallery,, and co-founder of Opening Times, Lived in London: 7 years.

Q: What’s the next show or project you are working on?

A: A group show called Morphing Overnight @ Seventeen Gallery, and I have been invited to coordinate & facilitate the MFA degree show @ University of the Arts, Helsinki.

Q: Why London?

A: I didn’t speak a word of English and wanted to learn it before moving to NY. I’ve just never left.

Q: Is organizing shows and working with artists in London different then in other cities or countries?

A: Oh yes completely. Each place has unique characteristics, and I feel that is really important to displace oneself and experiment with different networks and contexts. But also each show is unique.

I have my little list of “shows I want to curate before I die” and it frequently gets awkward new additions.

London is my starting point and feels a bit like home. I have solutions more or less for any possible last-minute exhibition-related problem. London is where I have curated my first shows and I am very attached to what it offers in terms of artistic conversation.

Q: Do you think London has a specific curatorial style?

A: Interesting question. I have asked the same thing recently to someone, as being myself “curatorially” from London, I felt too involved to have a critical perspective.

The answer was: London shows are tight.

Installation view of 'Caroline Mesquita: Camping' at Union Pacific, 2015.REBECCA FANUELE/UNION PACIFIC

Installation view of ‘Caroline Mesquita: Camping’ at Union Pacific, 2015.


Nigel Dunkley

Born 1980, originally from Portland, Oregon. Co-director of Union Pacific, a gallery that opened in London in September 2014, Lived in London: 6 years.

Q: What is the upcoming show you are working on?

A: We are currently preparing for our next exhibition with an Athens-based collective named KERNEL. We will also be launching our new project space next door with a duo show by Sasha Litvintseva and Lewis Teague Wright.

Q: Why London?

A: I guess it was just where I landed to study, then things unfolded from there. After graduating from Goldsmiths I found a large space which a friend, Roman Liska, and I turned into a project space called N/V_PROJECTS—after that more opportunities kept coming. I think one of the main reasons for “why London” is that in a metropolis so connected to the contemporary it’s easier to develop ideas and manifest opportunities.

Q: Are collectors different in London?

A: Different from where? I don’t really know how to answer that since everyone’s so individual—there’s definitely a notable difference between say, Belgium and New York, but London is so international it’s hard to define…

Q: What is your favorite London gallery or show recently seen?

A: My favorite space in London is Piper Keys—they run a very relevant program and develop really interesting projects—their recent show with Stuart Middleton was ace.

Apart from that, Steve Bishop at Carlos/Ishikawa, the sculpture selection by Mike Nelson at Whitechapel—both really good.

Work by Verónica Gerber in 'Duplicitous Storytellers,' curated by Fabiola Iza at Casa del Lago, Mexico City, in 2012.COURTESY THE ARTIST

Work by Verónica Gerber in ‘Duplicitous Storytellers,’ curated by Fabiola Iza at Casa del Lago, Mexico City, in 2012.


Fabiola Iza

Born 1986, originally from Mexico City. Independent curator and art historian. Lived in London: 6 months.

Q: What is the area of research/focus that you are currently working on?

A: I am inquiring on how specific strands of art production and curatorial practices engage with the past as an archive and seek to restore the agency of different cultural products (objects, ideas, images, etc.).

Q: Why London?

A: It is a very dynamic city with a huge arts infrastructure, be it independent/nonprofit initiatives, activist networks, artist-led spaces, or high-profile institutions. You can rarely find all these in the same city.

Q: What is the biggest difference or surprise about the education system in London?

A: I can only speak for the program I am enrolled in, but it is very free, you can choose the direction you wish to undertake with your research project, and it has little reliance on teaching—there is a lot of time to conduct research independently.

Q: Has living in London influenced your research—if so, how?

A: It hasn’t. I’ve lived in London for only a few months.

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