What is Luxury?

I visited the Victoria and Albert museum with Derby Museums and Art Gallery.

What is Luxury?

I visited the Victoria and Albert museum with Derby Museums and Art Gallery. I am currently taking part in a project with other young people, where we produce our own exhibition as part of the Vicker's Project, linking with the treasure houses theme. We took a coach to London and set off exploring the museum.

Specifically, we were visiting What is Luxury, which was intriguing for numerous reasons. It made me really think about the theme, but more than that the craftsmanship was on another level, with some truly skilled creations. The exhibition wound its way around twists and turns, which made you wonder what would come next.

The biggest impact that the exhibition had on me was that it really made me question what we mean when we use the term 'luxury'. Up until now, I'd only really used the term when studying my history degree, in terms of Eighteenth Century luxury and its connotations. But today I thought about luxury in alternative contexts, in modern circumstances compared with the past. A crown from the Eighteenth Century was exhibited next to an equally sparkly creation made only a few years ago: yet both pieces looked oddly similar. This part of the exhibition focused on the changing meaning of luxury, and how luxury goods in different contexts and times changed meaning.

The middle section of the exhibition focused on a utopian future, what could become luxury in the future that is different from our idea of luxury now. One piece that I really liked showed how plastic might be, if it were to become a rare and luxury material. How we would use it in new ways? What we value as luxury goods is a changing and transient thing, and is mainly down to subjectivity and how much of that type of item we can access: any item with limited access seems to instantly become a luxury good. My favourite piece in the exhibition involved the idea of gold being used to store data and the idea that gold could be used to hold memories and memoirs in the same way it is used to transmit data in electronics.

The way I interpreted this is that it links onto the idea that luxury is actually priceless: it stores what is meaningful to us, but what is actually most precious to us in the world, more than anything is our memories: our memories are priceless and our memories would cost as much as the very gold used to store it. Luxury can be personal rather than price related. The final section of the exhibition made me question what luxury meant to me as a person, and what it means to us now, as a collective people of the world. It was thought provoking and extremely interesting.

The other thing I really enjoyed about this exhibition was the level of craftsmanship. The modern handmade products were just incredible, where designer makers met with artists. The skill required for each piece of work was just phenomenal. One piece that blew me away was a collection of knitted bubbles, which had been created around tiny marbles with delicate strands: how anyone can produce such amazing tiny knitting is absolutely incredible. Another piece that blew me away was the dandelion chandelier: made with real preserved dandelion heads. The precision and skill to do that must have been immense. Every item in the exhibition was a craft item and was painstakingly handmade, old and new. This celebration of craft was incredibly enjoyable, and really impressed the pride of making that exists in many hand-crafted items.

The exhibition was super interesting and left me with lots of ideas! It made me think of how a lot of the ideas to do with luxury fitted with our idea of treasure: something that is personal to you, subject to your own life and background, changing depending on when it was produced and how rare it is. It seemed a really relevant trip for our group and I learnt a lot!


Mary Strickson

Mary Strickson Contributor

I love writing, blogging and reviewing on Voice and other online publications, covering a range of topics but I especially love the arts, activism, film and theatre. When I am not writing I work as an events photographer and artist/illustrator, as well as running workshops in schools and the community, mostly with young people. I'm also a huge history nerd, have a History BA, Art History MA and work in heritage. I love comics, superheroes and anything sci-fi.

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