At Lucy Sparrow’s Felt Corner Shop
In 1993, there was Rachel Whiteread’s ‘House’ sculpture in Grove Rd, then Tracey Emin & Sarah Lucas’ ‘Shop’ in Bethnal Green Rd and now Lucy Sparrow’s ‘Corner Shop’ in Wellington Row. Each of these endeavours has succeeded in capturing the public imagination in different ways, as reflections upon the traditional East End landscape of terraced housing and small independently-run shops – and, in her witty and deceptively-ambitious creation, Lucy Sparrow proves herself a worthy successor to her illustrious predecessors.
For several years, I have been walking past the melancholy empty dry-cleaners in Wellington Row on my way to Columbia Rd, so it was a joy to return this week with Contributing Photographer Patricia Niven and find the place humming with life. As her most ambitious project to date, artist Lucy Sparrow has stitched the entire contents of a corner shop, down the minutest detail, in felt and the collective effect is quite overwhelming and beautiful.
Upon arrival, there is an infectious atmosphere of collective celebration as visitors delight in discovering familiar items of grocery recreated in felt and wonder at how these everyday things have been rendered strange and exotic. It is both a dreamlike vision of the world transformed into textiles and a poignant elegy for a culture that is passing away – as our corner shops, which once provided important social spaces for local communities, are closed or replaced by soulless and exploitative chains.
“I have been making things with felt since I was nine, that’s twenty years, and my first job, at fourteen years old, was in a corner shop,” Lucy admitted. Once she said this, the dramatic literalism of her endeavour became apparent, because this is the result of seven months labour on Lucy’s part, working fourteen hours a day to sew more than four thousand items by hand. It is touching when you recognise favourite purchases, whether chocolate bars, packets of cigarettes or cans of soup stitched so affectionately, and it unlocks a personal nostalgia, recalling your own emotional memories that are bound up with these modest objects.
So convincing is Lucy’s needlework that, a few times each day, customers arrive without realising they are entering an art installation and, even as I stood talking with her, someone came in and asked to buy a bottle of water. “We’ve got as far as me putting the box of cigarettes on the counter before they realised,” Lucy confided to me, “That was a proud moment!”
Locals make their own felt groceries at one of Lucy’s workshops
Lucy Sparrow with Saturday Boy Bradley Garrett and Shop Assistant Rachel-Anne Read
Photographs copyright © Patricia Niven
The Corner Shop is open at 19 Wellington Row E2 7BB, until 31st August from 10am – 7pm
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