Lucy Sparrow is an amazing artist, crafter, activist, and writer. Her most recent project, an installation called The Cornershop, took seven months and around 300 square meters of felt to create and featured 4,000 items, which were displayed in an empty shop in London’s Bethnal Green last August. We caught up with Lucy to talk about her über-successful Kickstarter campaign, “guerilla knitting,” and how her great sense humor is the common thread in all of her work.
1. We first came across your work through your wildly successful Kickstarter campaign for your large-scale project The Cornershop. You raised $8,000 more than your stated goal. Besides an adorable video and killer perks, what other advice can you give artists who are about to launch their own crowd-sourcing campaign?
I think the project really has to touch the soul. I know that sounds corny but nostalgia is a powerful motivator. Also, the idea of reopening something that so-called progress had closed was a powerful motivator. That aside, I don’t know what made the Kickstarter campaign take off so astonishingly. Maybe I sounded confident about what I wanted to do. I certainly had a very clear idea in my mind and I knew I could make it work. In a way, having the Kickstarter donors behind me gave me the spur to carry on because I knew there was no way I could let them down. The downside was I had to make a whole lot of products before I could start stitching for The Cornershop. I’ve did nothing but sew for eight months. My fingers bled.
2. A lot of your work involves “Craftivism,” the intersection of crafts and activism. You have even curated a show about this very thing. Tell us more about Craftivism and the influence you see it having in your community.
Craftivism for me is turning the soft and genteel idea of crafting on its head and making it subversive and dangerous. People think of crafters as elderly grannies knitting cake doilies or toilet-roll covers, but I want it to be much more edgy. A few years back I knitted a scarf that was 30 meters long and then used a bow and arrow to shoot it up and wrap it round the neck of Sir Anthony Gormley’s Angel of the North, in England. That was a subversive exercise. Other people use guerrilla knitting as their form of craftivism. One of the most subversive things I made was a series of soft and cuddly weaponry made from felt which included an AK-47 and hand grenades. It’s about taking the hard things of this world and making them soft but putting them in edgy situations. That’s what I like to do.
3. You have such a strong, cohesive voice across all your social media platforms. Your bio is hysterical and really captures your personality as an artist. Writing can be very difficult for artists. Do you do all your writing or do you have a buddy who helps? What steps can young artists take in developing this important skill?
When I was five, my primary school teacher, Mrs. Bond, told my parents, that I would either be a writer or an artist. She knew I’d be one or the other, but I like to think I’m a bit of both. I write all my own stuff. My mother is an artist and my dad is a writer so I think maybe that’s where it comes from. I enjoy communicating in words as well as art, and I’m a real bookworm. Sadly I haven’t had enough time to read much recently as I’ve been sewing all the time. When I’m not sewing I like to read crime thrillers. Writing is something you can develop with practice but I do think that, like art, it’s something of an innate skill. If you can’t write then get someone to help you. It’s no big deal and as long as they can help you communicate the wordy part of your work then that’s great.
4. Do they have the expression “Drama is easy, comedy is hard” in the UK? Your work is very humorous. I love your piece “If Damien Hirst Had Used Paint Thinners.” And of course a lot of the pieces in The Cornershop are a riot (a Prozac pill with a smile!) Why is humor so important to your work and what influence do you see it having on your work?
We do have that expression. My dad has a pretty warped sense of humor that he passed on to me. We like to see the ridiculous side of everyday items. We can laugh for hours. My sister is the same. Comedy is a great way of conveying really serious subjects. Make people laugh first and then the idea behind it all is what made them laugh will also make them think. That’s my approach. Most things in this world are simply ridiculous and deserve to be laughed at. And people that take a stuffy poker-up-the-ass attitude to life deserve all the misery they create for themselves.
5. Any funny stories or strange visitors from your days running The Cornershop?
Most of the visitors were just wonderful. People came from all over the world. I had put notices up everywhere saying “Please Do Not Touch.” This was deliberate. If I’d put a sign up saying “Please Handle And Drool Over The Art,” then no one would have touched it. I wanted it to be tactile so the “Do Not Touch” notices had the opposite effect. Everyone kept picking up the art and squeezing it and stroking it. Quite a few times people came in and asked for a packet of cigarettes and a lottery ticket. I had to tell them it wasn’t real. At first they would be angry and then most burst out laughing when they worked it out. Those were the most satisfying funny moments.
6. Where did you learn how to knit? Any particular reason felt and wool are your materials of choice?
My mum taught me to knit and I think I started sewing felt in my first year of primary school. Kids probably aren’t allowed needles now for health and safety reasons. I was never an avid sewer or seamstress although I’ve made a few clothes. My real interest is in turning real objects into felt ones. Felt is the first material most of us ever come across. It’s fun to work with and can take rough stitching. I think it’s so childlike and great fun. How on earth can a bazooka be dangerous when it’s made out of felt?
7. Is there one particular item from The Cornershop everyone lusted over?
I think the most popular items were the Digestive and Hobnob biscuits. These are well-known brands that people grow up with in the UK. There’s nostalgia and comfort about them. The other items that were popular were the tinned soup, sardines and confectionery.
8. A classic question, but one of my favorites. Which artists have influenced you the most?
I love the observation of Hogarth, and Gin Lane is probably my favorite work. Obviously I love Damien Hirst, The Chapman Brothers, Trace Emmin, and the wonderful Grayson Perry. We’ve had a lot of great art in the UK in recent years. When I was studying art I had a real crush of Claes Oldenburg and his oversized pieces of food. I still feel his influence at times in some of my larger pieces.
Lucy Sparrow's official website: http://sewyoursoul.co.uk
The Cornershop website: http://www.thecornershoponline.com