“It’s just dib-dib-dib all day long.” So said the Turner prize-winning artist Grayson Perry last night—but he wasn’t talking about scouting or Lord Baden-Powell. Instead he was describing the happy life of the man (or woman, or man dressed as woman) who works with their hands for a living. On stage at the Victoria and Albert Museum for the launch of the inaugural London Craft Week, a joint venture led by the Swiss watch manufacturer Vacheron Constantin and the Crafts Council, he gave a typically earthy and invigorating speech about what craft is, and why it matters.
According to Perry, craft is not the thing you find in fusty shops in seaside towns, or on stalls at church fêtes. It’s something very close to art, but more “in love with materials” and more part of wider society’s experience: jewellers and tailors are craftsmen; so are joiners, carmakers and hairdressers. The “dib-dib-dib” was his description of the concentrated, repetitive nature of much making, a process which—on a rainy afternoon in his studio, with Radio 4 playing—gives him the most pleasure he can think of. “Relaxed fluidity”, he called his happiness; an evocative phrase.
After Perry’s speech, guests were given a guided tour of the V&A’s new exhibition, “What is Luxury?”—two rooms filled with prime examples of dib-dib-dib. The “Bubble Bath” necklace by Nora Fox is an ethereal conglomeration of what appear to be hundreds of soap bubbles, but are in fact hollow balls of ultra-fine nylon thread, hand-knitted with extraordinary finesse by Fox. Studio Drift’s “Fragile Future 3” chandelier consists of 55,000 dandelion seeds, each painstakingly glued to an LED—“light-emitting dandelions”, the makers call them, no doubt with their Dutch tongues tucked into their cheeks. Both pieces are on display to prove the curators’ point that the supposed value of luxury objects in part resides in the skill and time invested in making them. They finger other categories of luxury too, including exclusivity, delicacy, passion and rarity. But all of these refer to the consumer’s experience of buying and owning a luxury object. Listening to Perry, you felt they’d missed perhaps the most important category of all: the relaxed, fluid pleasure of making the things in the first place. Craft, in his argument, is luxury by the people, as well as for them.
London Craft Week Activities, talks and open studios across London to 10th May; full programme at www.londoncraftweek.com
What is Luxury? V&A, London, to 27th Sept
Intelligent Life is a media partner of London Craft Week