Based on London’s self-consciously well-heeled Chiltern Street, Incubator is the now permanent home for gallerist Angelica Jopling’s brainchild, which began life as a year-long series of pop-ups dedicated to exhibiting solo shows by unknown artists from all walks of life. These were post-pandemic events that could perhaps best be said to resemble the happenings of the 60s featuring music, poetry, and performances alongside work from largely unknown London-based artists–and they served to bring people back together in celebration following the dark days of global lockdowns.
When I meet Angelica Jopling at her small gallery, on a bright autumn day during London’s Frieze art fair, I am immediately struck by how down-to-earth and unassuming the 26-year-old is in her manner—a perhaps elevated response given her progeny of London power gallerist, Jay Jopling, of White Cube. Preconceptions quickly dim, and it soon enough becomes clear that Jopling is a fiercely bright, pre-possessing and unpretentious soul with a genuine passion for art, and indeed, the democratization of art beyond accepted hierarchies.
Here, the founder of one of London’s more exciting, and authentically cutting-edge art spaces tells us why art can provide a space for transgenerational expression, and explains what her own creative drive shares with the transdisciplinary vision of Diaghilev.
How would you describe the ethos at the core of Incubator?
The ethos is to lift emerging artists, and it began as a pop-up with the idea of giving them their very first solo shows. The first series of shows that we did as a gallery at the end of 2021 was all of the featured artists’ first shows, and that has continued through to Incubator, pretty much. The transformation and process from seeing an artist’s work in their studio and bringing their vision to life while building towards a show fascinates me. The solo show program used to be back-to-back every week, and now we do it every other week.
How do you define your role as a curator, how involved are you?
It can be quite a collaborative process, but it varies from artist to artist, to be honest. Some young artists have quite a distinct vision of how they want to use the opportunity to show their work for the first time in a solo capacity, and, in that instance, I’m kind of supporting bringing that vision to life. But, with others, they have ideas, but are not sure how to realize them, and then it becomes something totally collaborative. It’s quite an individual process.
What is the criteria for an artist exhibiting at Incubator?
The criteria for each program is to have each show be as different from the previous one as possible—really showcasing the breadth of the type of work artists in London are making at the moment, and what they’re interested in. That really is never limited to a type of medium, or a theme, which is what a lot of people seem to expect or ask about.
In general, for me, it’s often the ideas that draw me to an artist first, but I also challenge myself to look at the medium material first, as well– there’s kind of a push and pull between both for me, if that makes sense.
Having grown up in the art world, why were you drawn to curation as opposed to following the path of a visual artist?
I’m not a visual artist, but I love art and just kind of always wanted to engage with young artists in London, and that’s a big part of why I am doing what I’m doing. The other side is the opportunity for me to express my own creativity, which for me is writing. I write all the text for the majority of the shows, so I am able to bring those two interests together at Incubator. I’m really inspired by Joan Didion, and the non-fiction essay genre, or style. I was given Slouching Towards Bethlehem when I was 16 years old, and it had the biggest impact. The detail-oriented way she writes is just perfect to me. I love to write, but I also love art because it expresses what often can’t be expressed with words.
You have an open call for artists to submit to be exhibited at Incubator–why is that important to you?
It’s extremely important because a lot of the artists that we find outside of the open call come through the traditional channels, like art school degree shows, which can be restrictive because you have to have a certain education to be in that position, and also be a certain age. The open call is totally unlimited—the artists from the open call are any medium, any age, any background. It’s really varied who has come through there.
Do you see certain themes of the zeitgeist coming to the fore when seeking out so much new art?
That’s an interesting question. I mean, there are definitely themes that come through, and I actually do see that most clearly in the open-call application. There are often themes of identity, and environmental causes that come to the fore. Those are a lot of things that come up quite regularly, and there are myriad mediums people are using to explore them. But, at the same time, it seems to be a lot broader than that overall—to be honest, it doesn’t feel like everyone’s kind of looking at one thing in particular.
You have many happenings at the gallery, with performances, and so forth—is it important to you that art is employed as a tool to bring people together?
Exactly that, and also to create an opportunity for collaboration. There are not often spaces for performance art or poetry, and those events bring in a different kind of crowd to view the art–you kind of bring together people who are interested in visual art and not so much exposed to performance, and vice versa. Lots of people come to those events every week, and quite an intergenerational community is starting to come into existence. To create a gathering around art is something that’s quite amazing.
It sounds as if you have a love for the kind of transdisciplinary ideas forwarded by Diaghilev...
Absolutely. I have always been interested in Diaghilev and actually wrote my college application essay on the Ballet Russes, about the impact of disciplines like fashion, visual art and performance all coming together. That is something that really inspires me, especially in regard to these happenings at Incubator. The sense of different disciplines coming together and being less strict about the boundaries between things is always fascinating to me, and I believe it is important. I don’t think there’s any need for hierarchy. There are so many ways in which things can come together that are far more symbiotic than we imagine.
Photographed by Jason Hetherington
Styled by Aartthie Mahakuperan
Written by John-Paul Pryor