What is this Origin thing?

I’ve just realised that I go on and on about this Origin thing, and have never really explained what it is. Those who have read this blog for a long time have probably got the hang of it now, as this is the 3rd year I’ve exhibited. But as the show title Origin is so very undescriptive, it probably needs some explanation. The Crafts Council describes it:

Origin brings together some of the very best of British and international contemporary craft to the centre of London.

What follows is my own description and experience. Previous posts about Origin over the last 3 years can be seen here, here, here and here. And elsewhere in the blog, if you search (I haven’t got labels on my posts, slacker that I am).

The full title is Origin, the London Craft Fair. Its organised by the Crafts Council which is the UK government-funded body for contemporary crafts. I know that’s still not very descriptive, as contemporary craft means very different things to different people. Essentially, its the second most important craft show in the UK, with the most important being Collect, also organised by the Crafts Council. Exhibitors have to apply every year, and are selected by a panel of industry experts including gallery curators, journalists and academics. It is VERY competitive and many, many excellent makers don’t get in. I’ve got in for the last 3 years which completely amazes me, and I am humbled by it each time. It really is THE place to be seen. I can’t emphasis enough how important it is in a maker’s calendar. Some people don’t do it, don’t even apply, as they have enough sales and commissions not to need it, or find other shows are more productive or more suitable for their work. But for many of us, its THE SHOW. Collect is at an even higher level, as the exhibitors at that show are galleries, showing the work of their chosen exhibitors. So for that, you need to be represented by a major gallery – I’m a way off that yet.

It takes place over two weeks in a temporary ‘pavillion’ in the courtyard of Somerset House, a major London art gallery. Each week has about 140 exhibitors and they change completely in the middle, so essentially it is two different shows.

So back to basics. In January the application has to be put in, with new images each time. They have to be really good pictures as the selection is made from just those 6 images. At application time, we makers discuss among our friends who is applying, who can’t face it this year and who hasn’t been able to get new images together in time for the deadline. We send off our applications just in time for the deadline, then panic about whether it has arrived or not. Then it goes quiet for about 2 months. We all chew our fingernails and tell each other that we’re probably not going to get in. Its safer that way. Then in April, the letters arrive….. In the olden days, when applications were by slides rather than CDs, I’m told it was possibly to tell if you had got in or not by whether the envelope contained your returned, rejected, slides. Successful applicants didn’t get their images back until later. Now its not so clear, just from the envelope.
And sometimes it can be not so clear even when you have opened the letter. This year I was put on the reserve list, which means I was positively selected, but might not get in if there isn’t space. It was immensely frustrating. I sort of got in, but couldn’t be sure, not for another 6 weeks or so. You can’t celebrate and relax (and start preparing) but neither can you plan a holiday or other work for the exhibition period either. Nor can you complain to people who got rejected, they don’t appreciate that!

Finally, finally in June, the reserve list places were allocated and I got my letter. Heart pounding, I opened it. Phew. I danced a small jig by the postroom at the studio and rang my mum to shriek with delight. I have yet to deal with an outright rejection from Origin, and having done 3 years in a row, its probably going to happen soon. They like to keep it fresh and have lots of new people, so there’s no guarantee the luck will continue. So I have to make the most of it while I can.

Origin is kind of like a cross between art gallery and a craft fair. The standard of an art (or craft) gallery with the set up of a craft fair. Each chosen exhibitor has a space, the standard being 2 square metres, in a little white 3-sided box. For this we pay a LOT of money. The show is 6 days long and we have to be there all the time. Some of the days are very, very long. This year seems to be better than last year, thankfully. So on the set up day (13th Oct for me) I have to get there, with loaded car (that’s another long story, but I have my wonderful mum to thank for her help with this) and set up. So that’s preparing the stand, displaying all the work etc. It changes every year, as I keep changing my work, but this year it is all framed textiles, which will be fiddly to hang, but hopefully fairly straightforward.

The show is open to the public so direct sales are made, but its also open to, and very much promoted to, gallery curators, shop buyers, press, academics and all the movers and shakers in the business. Anyone who’s anyone in contemporary craft will visit Origin. So its kind of essential that you get it right. So that’s what all the stressing and panicking and late-night sewing is all about. Press and trade invites, reminders, price lists, photos, new leaflets, postcards, new website (nearly ready)… the list is fairly endless. I am less stressed this year than last, probably because I’ve done it before. But I’m still pretty stressed just now, with only a few days to go. So I really ought to be working on it, rather than just describing it, eh?
Wish me luck!

3 thoughts on “What is this Origin thing?

  1. Hi Ruth,All the best for Origin, from the girls at Design Factory! I’ll be visting 14th October and will pop by and say hello! Hayley and Clare will be visting on the 16th. Tracie is going Week One.

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