It’s almost time. The display is fully put together, the lights connected, the jewellery packed out, but I’m still fidgeting with individual pieces, shifting and swapping them. Taking a couple of steps back, rounding a corner, assessing my display from a distance. What’s the first thing you see? What will captivate unsuspecting visitors and draw them in? I check my watch, just twenty more minutes and I haven’t finished adding price tags. Or should I just leave them to make the display less cluttered? Are potential customers scared of asking for prices? Pricing my work is actually one of the most difficult aspects of what I do… but that’s another entire story.
I’ve done quite a few fairs, exhibitions and craft shows by now, and yet, I’m always still nervous. That’s because every single experience really is completely unique. Some are run by big corporations that have to coordinate hundreds of exhibitors, construction workers, electricians, security personnel, caterers, models for the fashion shows, press representatives and thousands of visitors… basically a crazy logistic feat. But even the smaller exhibitions must be organizational challenges for the hosts, especially since smaller craft shows are usually run by local arts and crafts societies, with most of the organizers working in their personal spare time without getting paid – all in the name of supporting the arts. I can honestly say that I prefer the smaller, more intimate shows, precisely because everything is much more personal. The sparkly international trade fairs might be more professional, more glamorous and prestigious with fancy awards to win and lots of VIPs attending, but also much more stressful. Usually they cost about ten times as much as smaller shows, and free perks are rare, not even free Wi-Fi or a glass of champagne during the opening night.
I check my watch again. Time to perform. It’s not that I’m not myself during craft shows, not at all, I’m just an amplified, condensed and intensified version of myself. It’s all the positive energy I can muster thrown at you all at once.
I draw back my shoulders and imagine my head held up straight by an invisible golden thread. I’m powerful. I’m wearing a very flattering black linen open-back dress with short sleeves, emphasising and hiding strategic areas of my body in an ingenious way. No cleavage, but open collar bones. Mezmerizing earrings. Black stockings and stunning coral-coloured leather dancing shoes with small heels (the beauty of dancing shoes: they’re comfortable enough to stand for eight hours straight, but still very elegant). Most importantly, a whiff of sparkling fairy-dust-like confidence, invisible like a perfume. If you break that aura up into individual notes, it contains a good chunk of open friendliness, a pinch of humour, a heap of confident assertion (believing that my work is good and worth the price I’m asking for it) and a healthy portion of I-don’t-care-what-you-think-ness to deal with the occasional silly comment. This is my armour.
But like a protective spell in the world of Harry Potter, this energy field around myself is utterly exhausting to keep up, depending on my mental state and personal energy levels.
Imagining a show as an invisible stage that I actively get on and off again is a strategy to help me deal with the disparity of the worlds that collide in this sphere. Many visitors live a kind of life that is inconceivably foreign to my own semi-frugal lifestyle (I mean, I have what I need, I eat well, but I simply don’t buy a lot of stuff). Here, on this platform, I can move with ease amongst people who spend hundreds of Euros on a single dinner out, who can buy anything they please without checking their bank account first, and who expect me to exude an air of luxury, a golden, gleaming fairy-tale-like quality. So how to stay genuine through the pretence? It’s like doing the splits: very difficult, constant hard work, but possible (it’s a metaphor, I can’t actually do the splits). The invisible stage enables me to be an active storyteller, to be truly me, telling jokes and stories, all the while casting a kind of intriguing magical haze over the entire display that speaks both to those immersed in their luxury lifestyles and those who don’t own much but simply visit to look at beautiful things.
In many ways, it’s an uncomfortable collision of worlds for me. I am undeniably participating in a luxury industry, but a large part of who I have become has to do with finding joy in the surrounding world without a lot of money or material possessions. And one of the most important ways of finding meaning, joy and belonging in my life is precisely that creative process I engage in to make my art: the making by hand, the storytelling, the creation of something imaginary that is more than simply the sum of its parts. Not making art is simply not an option for me. My work will inevitably shift and evolve in an attempt to reconcile these contradictory ambitions.
After a craft show, the process of stepping down from the invisible stage is equally deliberate. Stepping down into normality from this world of easily unsheathed credit cards, of buying each other 5-Euro-coffees and celebratory glasses of champagne with a generous flourish, stepping down from the high, the euphoria, the intensity to a state of tired contentment. Here, I can acknowledge my hard work, my exhaustion, and assess my successes and my mistakes with a level-headed sense of realism. I believe that without this imaginary stage, it’s easy to get stuck in the intensity of a make-belief lifestyle steeped in a desperate search for approval. Addictive as it is, it could swallow me whole, financially and emotionally.