By Tanya Silverman
The convenience of shopping at big box stores like Walmart or Tesco might offer us some sense of comfort. Then again, strolling through their impersonal atmospheres of fluorescent lighting and sterile displays does not offer that warm, fuzzy kind of comfort we experience shopping at local neighborhood stores.
That’s part of the reason why artist Lucy Sparrow decided to open The Cornershop in East London.
She stocked her small shop with a colorful inventory of commodities: ice cream, Heinz tomato ketchup, editions of the Guardian newspaper, Mars Bars, Foster’s Beer, chewing gum, a little donate-to-animals change cup by the register. Intending to play on her memories from childhood and revamp a disappearing community resource, Sparrow made all the products out of a warm, fuzzy material: felt.
Sparrow says she chose the cloth because of its “naive” and “childlike” nature.
“It’s a very forgiving fabric that’s approachable and is available in a huge range of colours,” she explains. “It was just the right material to give the pieces saturation, strokability and a uniform appearance.”
To produce this 4,000-piece art installation, Sparrow and her partner acquired an old storefront, renovated it, and researched the items to feature. Some were ones Sparrow “sold as a young shop assistant during school holidays,” while others were newer. They spent seven months sewing, “working from early morning until late at night with just occasional naps to recharge our felting batteries.” They cut, stitched, and stuffed about 30 items per day, which they then decorated with fabric paint.
Sparrow says that by now, most of the items are sold out, meaning she’ll have to restock. At the moment, though, she’s spending a lot of her time in the shop conversing with customers, who often speak of a shared familiarity to the local corner shops they visited as children.
Patrons might become too comfortable from the experience at times.
“Although there are ‘Do Not Touch’ signs everywhere, many cannot resist handling and stroking the pieces,” Sparrow says.
Nevertheless, she ultimately considers it “heartening” to see her art giving such an instant, approachable effect on visitors.
All photos courtesy of Lucy and Mark Sparrow.