In 2014 I, Lucy Sparrow, will be restocking an abandoned Cornershop in London with felt products. Each item- from the bean cans, to the cigarette packets, the chewing gum and the porn mags- will be made entirely out of felt: each item meticulously hand sewn, stuffed and priced by yours-truly. During the month-long installation The Cornershop will be visited by both local passers-by and art audiences, once inside the shop they can not only view the products, but can handle, and even buy them. They will also be able to watch live-sewing events, participate in workshops and can even be drawn into improvised performance works that make them reflect on our taken-for granted shopping behaviours. The installation will be accompanied by a series of making workshops. In addition to drop-in workshops for one and all, I will also offer more specialist workshops for the local community and the neurologically diverse communities. These workshops will mobilise power of crafting practices to engage individuals and connect communities. I need your help. I have applied for money from the Arts Council, but I need to match fund this. The money I raise here will go towards paying to rent the premises, and buying materials to stock the shop and fund the workshops. As I make the work I will document it all in a diary on my blog, I want to keep you all updated every step of the way with photos and progress videos. A live ‘felt cam’ will stream all the events, meaning even if you can’t be in the cornershop you can see what is going on. Join me on this amazing journey and watch The Cornershop grow before your very eyes. Every person who pledges support money will get a VIP invite to The Cornershop and their names on the list of contributors in the exhibition catalogue.
A geographer and art theorist says: A ‘felt’ politics
Shop-keeper is a role artists have often embraced. Whether this be Sarah Lucas and Tracey Emin stocking their own art shop with hand-made products, Michael Landy taking over an abandoned department store on Oxford Street, or Claus Oldenburg making oversize fabric consumer products.
In Cornershop Lucy scales up her production of individual objects to stock an entire cornershop. Her site-specific installation develops a critical spatial practice that asks us to question the politics of the British high street. Whether visiting deliberately or coming upon it unawares audiences will be gently, but effectively, led to question their consumption behaviours through the tactile experience Lucy’s work presents.
The ‘felt’ politics behind Lucy’s practice creates a gentle probing dialogue with those violent political practices built on conflict and antagonism. Through the materiality of felt and the processes of making and handling the objects, fondling the products, Lucy’s work develops a politics that is at once humorous, grotesque and gentle. It is a politics that for all of this is no less insistent, requiring that we engage with our unquestioned practices in consumption spaces, face up to the fetishism of consumption, and draw to the fore the changing politics of the British consumption landscape, and the demise of our cornershops as spaces not only for consumption but also for community building.
Lucy will not only recreate the products in this felt-shop, but will also rekindle these spaces as sites of community building. In a geographical area becoming increasingly gentrified, a practice within which art galleries have played a role, Lucy’s work seeks, in a small way to work to rebuild community relations. Working at the nexus of art-craft, not only enables a particular materiality of her practice, but also makes possible a certain accessibility that is often not as clear in abstract and conceptual art practices. More than this, in the making workshops she is going to hold- in which participants will make felt products- Lucy explores the power of making to build self-esteem and enhance social relations. This is to recognise the place and value of crafting practices in connecting communities.
As part of the project Lucy will work with Harriet Hawkins to develop a symposium for artists and geographers interested in our changing consumption environments. She will also work with Harriet to evaluate The Cornershop, taking part in Harriet’s wider research on audience encounters with art.
Risks and challenges
While I have curated group shows and organized my own solo exhibitions from scratch, Cornershop is a big undertaking, and I've not taken the decision to make this work lightly. The project was born out of a desire to create something immersive, something that took the properties of my previous work that I have witnessed audiences being drawn to, and the discussions they have developed, and use this to raise important issues.
It was also born out of a desire to take the benefits I have experienced, and watched others experience through collective making practices into the wider community, and work especially with the neurologically diverse communities close to my heart.
I don’t expect any of this to be easy, but as ever, I will not be going it alone. Cornershop will ‘take a village’ and I have a longstanding network of friends, with eons of artistic experience between them to support me in my endeavors. I have the help and support of a network of researchers in community and installation art, geography, urban space and politics and activism, who will help me to develop the social and political elements of my work and to evaluate the project. I will also work closely with community groups to ensure that my work reaches local audiences. Drawing on the support and advice of these networks and groups will help me to ensure that Cornershop succeeds.