The Victoria and Albert Musem’s latest exhibition, in association with The Crafts Council and sponsored by Northacre, asks a profound question that is more relevant today than ever before. What is Luxury? It’s a question that has always caused controversy and is even harder to answer today.
Today, not only is there an increase in luxury brands, but social, political and cultural conditions continuously change our perceptions of luxury. Technology and communication have fundamentally changed our notions of it, creating a desire for a less tangible sense of luxury, such as a yearning for time, space and – even – privacy.
The exhibition showcases work by various artists, designers and makers under a carefully selected group of terms in order to initiate a conversation. Every piece addresses a kind of craftsmanship and investment in time and skill. Not only do the works challenge our embedded ideas of luxury, but they also address what will constitute luxury in the future and how it stands against what is valuable.
Pieces of the exhibition range from a diamond created from road kill, to a DNA-stocked vending machine, to a spectacularly innovative piece by fashion designer Iris Van Herpen. The objects, although seemingly disparate from a distance, are all connected by a fine thread. Some rare materials are incorporated to question the security of their existence. Perhaps the ultimate luxury will be our most basic resources.
Even as a visual experience, your eye can never rest, as the materials used for the works vary in medium and texture. From human hair, to tortoiseshell, to wood, to gold, to Philippe Malouni’s spirographic sand installation that is in constant accumulation in the middle of the space.
One of the most captivating pieces was FOMObile, the algorithmic real-time publishing project created by Space Caviar, which investigates place, photography, narrative and the accelerating speed of professions like journalism. Visitors of the exhibition can tweet their postcode to @f_o_m_o and get a random book of an artist’s work. The platform plays on the idea of human beings being replaced by machines, the current automated kind of editorial processes, and the concept of exclusive access as only one copy of each book is printed. Its acquisition requires being connected to social media, patience and is a matter of luck.
Another work, titled ‘Time for Yourself’, is a tongue-in-cheek toolkit that includes a watch with no dial and a compass that spins at random. “It is almost impossible to get truly lost these days. It would take a lot of effort to experience this luxury,” says the artist Marcin Rusak who created the piece.
The Last Man, a film that you can delve into at the end of the exhibition, imagines a state of an individual who is completely alone in a world with all resources intact yet free from the constraints of economics, fashion, society, politics and time. In the moving picture, the last man is the one dictating his own material world.
“Essentially, the question of luxury is a personal one,” says Jana Scholze, co-curator of the exhibition who worked alongside fellow researcher Leanne Wierzba. Perhaps, in our luxury-driven, fashion-obsessed, digital-dominated world, just being able to define it for oneself is luxury in its finest form. Visit it for yourself to try to uncover what it means to you.
Nada Abdul Ghaffar
25 April – 27 September 2015
Victoria & Albert Museum
London SW7 2RL