UK-born artist Lucy Sparrow softens the blow— quite literally— of explicit adult imagery. Her pop-up installation staged at Montreal’s Station 16 Gallery allows patrons to approach intimate, sexually-charged subjects what would otherwise be considered “untouchable.” The puns write themselves, and it’s evident that they come intentionally, easily to Sparrow.
Standing in the middle of a fuchsia-painted, fairy light-glowing sex shop of her own conception, she radiates whimsy, humour, and a shameless openness. She is surrounded by pornographic magazines, full-sized sex toys in packages, a wall-to-wall display of XXX DVD’s. Some people cross through the beaded curtain on the threshold with their children and quickly turn away when they hear throbbing funk grooves and take in the adverts for Dominatrixes and gay sex phone lines.
But look closer. It’s all okay.
Everything in here is safe and soft. The entire store is stocked with Sparrow’s handmade sex shop recreations made of felt: designed, stitched, painted, and ready for sale. Just go by the register to pay. You can pick up vaginal lubricant, a pack of Marlboros and a single Durex condom while you’re there. It’s all made of felt. Madam Roxy’s Erotic Emporium (Le Sex Shop Feutré in Montreal) provokes a form of make-believe that’s fun at face value, but speaks complex volumes about the world of erotic, pornography and sexuality as it’s perceived in 2016.
Decompoz Magazine (DM): You say you’re fascinated by things made out of materials that they aren’t supposed to be. Why is that?
Lucy Sparrow (LS): As I’ve always been interested in packaging and branding, I think when you make things out of fabric— out of a different material — you can approach subjects that might be a little too controversial, a little too difficult to talk about than if they were real. I think people would be a lot more offended than now, because it’s made out of felt. You can approach difficult subjects without them being “in your face” and you can present issues that might be controversial in a very funny, friendly way. You can get away with a lot in felt.
DM: And that was your intent, to make people comfortable with this sort of imagery?
LS: I did this expo first in London, and so many people came up to me and said they’d never been in a sex shop in their life. It’s amazing that they would come into a felt sex shop because it’s “art,” and not go into a normal sex shop.
DM: What did you base the pieces in the expo off of?
LS: I used a lot of magazines— front covers, images — for the positions of the girls and their body shapes, but some are completely made up. Some of the funnier ones, actually. But I did a LOT of research— months and months of research— just looking at porn, basically. Your level of what is acceptable or realistic changes completely and you’re totally desensitized. I’ve been in this world too long and yeah, just can’t get out of it *laughs*
DM: Is that a reaction you’ve noticed in people who see your work?
LS: I hope that I’ve opened minds somewhat and that there’s an element of education about it. It makes people really think about the girls on the cover (of adult magazines): what they’re doing, what their lives are about. And it showed them a world they wouldn’t normally go into. [My work is] a little cross-section of a world that’s off limits usually.
DM: Was this meant to be an advocacy exhibition?
LS: I think I wanted to be more subversive than anything— I wanted to go that step further in tackling a big topic. Some conservative laws were passed in the UK about a year and a half ago (regarding female ejaculation in porn) and it was a part protest to that— not protest necessarily, but an awareness. I learned a lot whilst doing it.
DM: So there’s definitely an empowering undertone.
LS: Absolutely— it wasn’t in a feminist way— it was a sort of celebration of the industry, because quite often it can get vilified. I was working in strip clubs for about five years and I had nothing but amazing experiences! Some women really enjoy it— they really enjoy their job. That’s even more of a taboo than if they’d been trafficked: that they like it.
Don't miss the LUCY SPARROW'S EROTIC EMPORIUM : LE SEX SHOP FEUTRÉ at the Station 16 Gallery in Montreal, running until July 1st, 2016. (event link)
Station 16 Gallery | 3523 Boul St-Laurent, Montréal, QC, H2X 2T6, Canada