“I never knew that I needed this in my life, but I did, I really did.” The overheard thoughts of one of the Cornershops satisfied customers as she left the East End’s most ambitious immersive art experience.
The brainchild of Lucy Sparrow, an artist who specialises in making things out of felt and wool, the Cornershop has been eight months in the making. Stitching and sewing almost non-stop with breaks for cups of tea and sleep, Lucy has become a one woman felt factory and it’s a story that’s really captured the public’s imagination. Featuring in all the national press, the BBC and loads of online media as well as being regularly featured in Inspiring City, people have been coming from far and wide to see what all the fuss is about.
I managed to visit the Cornershop, in an old laundrette on Wellington Row in Bethnal Green, first on it’s opening night and properly on the Saturday the weekend afterwards. The opening night was a busy affair with queues around the corner as people waited to get into the compact space. It even got robbed by scallywags on Boris Bikes holding up the store with felt bananas and making off with fluffy canned goods. Don’t worry though folks, that particular crime was all part of the show and the shame faced villains returned later on to return their booty of cuddly goodies.
Returning a week later I spoke to one couple from Swansea told me that they’d got into the car at 6am that morning with the sole intention of driving to Bethnal Green just to see the shop and they did not leave disappointed. Another woman told me that her mother had been planning to travel down from Manchester whilst some local kids, wandering in from some of the flats around gasped in wonder as they saw the felt goodies on display.
For Lucy it’s exhausting she’s been working from 10 till 7 for eight days straight and has until the end of the month to go. Her schedule does not allow for days off and includes a whole load of creative workshops where people can come in and learn how to make sewed cans of baked beans. As I pop in she takes a break and slumps on the pavement outside. Taking a quick breather in order to rest her legs as life behind the till for hours on end can take its toll. She tells me about her ambitions to go to America and create an installation there whilst also expanding more on her ideas for London based projects. I am struck once again by her sheer ambition despite being clearly exhausted.
The shop, which Lucy only took ownership of two weeks before the opening also needed a complete overhall having lain derelict for years and having seen better days. A rapid sprucing followed as Lucy had, not only to fit out the shop, but to deep clean and furnish it too. Now the shop needs to operate throughout the month of August and has already been attracting hundreds of visitors a day, peaking the Sunday after opening with over 700 visits. By any standards it’s been a huge success with people able to buy anything inside just so long as they are prepared to wait until after the show to have the goods sent out.
Lucy spends her time taking orders from interested felt fans and tidying up the shop. The cuddly items are a magnet for eager hands wishing to pick things up and touch, meaning that the shelves need constant care. “It really is amazing” says Lucy. Despite the effort that goes into putting something like this on she knows that she has achieved a remarkable thing. The visitors to the shop come not quite knowing what to expect and I get the feeling she likes that, likes the idea that it is something so different that it becomes hard to enter with pre-conceived ideas.
From what I saw, the visitors looked to be really enjoying the experience. Happily browsing the shelves, taking lots of pictures and then hanging around on the pavement outside talking with friends and others about the show. It’s a rare art installation that, in it’s own way manages to bring people together and get people really talking, but this one does and does it well.
The Cornershop is an immersive art installation situated in 19 Wellington Row, Bethnal Green. Inspiring City visited the Cornershop on Saturday 9 August 2014. The shop will be open everyday from 10am till 7pm until the end of August. For more articles on the development of the Cornershop check out these articles on the Kickstarter Campaign and the Interview with Lucy Sparrow at her home prior to the show.
The Cornershop Gallery