Saturday, 25 September 2010

Origin: The London Craft Fair

Going to Origin? Don’t forget your jumper. In fact, if you’re a knitwear designer down on your luck you’d probably do a roaring trade as a roving scarf seller – whether “made” or “manufactured”. The chill factor at the new, rather exposed venue at Old Spitalfields Market reminds us that craftspeople are basically market traders with university degrees.

This year sees Origin’s second change of venue in five years. Formerly the Chelsea Craft Fair, the Craft Council’s flagship event started out some 30 years ago in Chelsea Town Hall, where it remained up until 2006 when it moved to Somerset House and rebranded itself as Origin: The London Craft Fair. The move was viewed with skepticism by many, as exhibitors had come to rely on the loyal Chelsea clientele.

Origin at Somerset House turned out to be a success. The Chelsea ladies didn’t neccessarily venture out, but plenty of new punters did. The modern, spacious venue (a sunny marquee spread over the courtyard) was actually a vast improvement over the somewhat cramped and stuffy Chelsea venue. It felt like the fair had grown up.

So it was with great curiosity that I hopped off the tube at Liverpool Street today to see how this year’s Origin would compare.

Spitalfields is not the first place you would associate with contemporary craft, but step into Origin’s whiter-than-white landscape and you could be just about anywhere. The standard of work was excellent, and there seemed to be a better balance of disciplines than in previous years; no longer did I feel that every second exhibitor was a jeweller.

However, when I asked exhibitors how they were doing, the reply was always the same: “Cold!” Protected from the elements only by the old market roof overhead, everyone was taken a bit by surprise, especially as they’d all braced themselves for the usual stifling heat of this particular fair. One exhibitor had expressed her disomfort by covering her stand and allegedly walking out in protest; speculation was rife as to whether she’d just gone home to get a jumper or if she was planning on sitting the whole fair out due to pigeons using her jewellery for target practice.

Still, there was plenty to keep me distracted from the chill. As a precious jeweller I always find myself attracted to big, bright things which are the exact opposite of the delicate little gold pieces I surround myself with in my studio. Margo Selby’s sofa upholstored in her luxurious woven fabrics was a welcome sight, as was her hand-knotted banana fibre rug. And of course I couldn’t help but stop and do a double-take of carreducker’s amazing Winkers – loafers made of reflective tweeds that “wink” as you walk past. One of my other constant favourites is John Moore, who makes bold, kinetic jewellery in anodised aluminium. His structures are perfect in every way, and his sense of colour always surprise me – who would have thought pink and grey could look so tasty?

Unusually, there were furniture designers exhibiting at Origin this year, and my eye was instantly drawn to the amoebic Corsica chair by the Yard Sale Project, a beautiful piece of useful sculpture which I failed to photograph because I was quickly distracted by this piece:

Perhaps this is the start of a new era for British craft. No longer can designer/makers rely on ladies of leisure to come back year after year to the cozy confines of Chelsea Old Town Hall, or even to the relative safety of Somerset House. Craft meets the real world at last! But are we ready?

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