Much has changed for the London Design Festival since it launched in 2003. Initially viewed as a bit of an arriviste - muscling in on the scene created by the likes of 100% Design and designersblock - it has successfully cast itself as the umbrella brand for an eclectic range of installations, talks and events taking place in the capital during September. And this model has been copied by cities around the globe.
At the Crafts Council we like to think we played our part in making the LDF's tenth anniversary go with a swing. Our day-long conference Assemble 2012, held at RIBA, took an intelligent and fascinating look at the affinity between making and science. While at designjunction our new show Added Value? examined the relationship between craft, branding and luxury, posing questions (rather than seeking answers) about the different perceptions of worth and consumers' growing interest in provenance. Finally, at that same venue's cinema, Crafts magazine joined forces with the International Film Festival on Glass and Clay, organised by Ateliers d'Art de France, to show a clutch of films originally viewed in Montpellier.
Having seen as much of the festival as possible, and after consulting colleagues, it seems that one of the key differences between the LDF now and in 2003 is that it has become imbued with a sense of craft. Making's presence was felt in all the major shows, from the luxurious environs of Decorex in Chelsea, to the more situationalist approach of designersblock on the Southbank. Look hard enough and it was even there in the trade atmosphere of 100% Design at Earls Court 2: the On Our Doorsteps stand, for example, was a perceptive installation by the University of Brighton showcasing projects by designers working as local activitists, either by making new products from materials scavenged off nearby streets or creating schemes to galvanise communities.
It was also fascinating to see the ways craft can be used to create items for those with money to spend, or be adapted for make-do-and-mend. Ever so often the two ends of this spectrum collide. In Pimlico, for instance, Linley launched a pair of new desks - designed by Rolf Sachs and Alex Hull respectively - as part of its Collaborations installation. The former featured no nails or screws, with panels of timber layered on top of each other. The latter combined a glass and carbon fibre frame with an exquisite leather covering. Both cost in excess of £20,000. But in the East End, DreamBagsJaguarShoes showed work from East London Furniture using found objects, waste and recycled material to create new chairs, tables and lighting as well as adding timber panels to the walls and bar. Combining these very separate sensibilities was a show at Gallery FUMI in Hoxton Square called Prostheses and Innesti. These furniture pieces were originally constructed by anonymous workers on building sites connected to architect Marcio Kogan, before what the gallery calls 'gentle interventions' by his practice StudioMK27 reinterpreted them - adding a piece of Murano glass here, or a carbon-fibre table-top there.
Now there is a debate to be had about the value of these pieces: what is it saying to turn roughly hewn, functional furniture into expensive art? But this does all prove that, a decade since the LDF began, design and craft are back in the same orbit. A mutually beneficial relationship is being revived which must be good for the UK economy in the long term.
Britain means business
And while I'm on this subject, the Crafts Council was proud to take part in the UK Trade and Investment organised British Business Embassy. At Lancaster House during the Olympic and Paralympic Games, 4,000 business leaders and global figures attended summits from the creative industries, finance and sport. The event was an opportunity to dress Lancaster House with the best of British craft, design and fine art. Our exhibits included work by paper artist Su Blackwell, silversmith David Clarke, jewellery designer Wendy Ramshaw, ceramists James and Tilla Waters and glass artist Louis Thompson, shown in three different spaces. At the creative industries summit it was great to hear Jonathan Ive of Apple talk about the importance of craft to his own creative practice. To my mind it highlighted the current strength of the crafts sector and how seriously it is being taken by government and business alike.
This blog post is also in the November/December 2012 issue of Crafts magazine.
Follow Rosy Greenlees on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CraftsCouncilUK