Arts·The World Of

This Montreal sex shop is made entirely out of fabric

It's hardly Montreal's first sex shop, but it is the first made entirely of felt. UK artist Lucy Sparrow's Erotic Emporium, an all-felt installation that recreates a seedy love boutique/peep show, is on display at the city's Station 16 Gallery. "It's very hard to get angry with felt," the artist says of her preferred medium, and the show defuses taboos around sex while celebrating the nostalgia for gentrified red light districts.

Is it still NSFW if it's made out of felt?

Is it still NSFW if it's made out of felt? UK artist Lucy Sparrow inside her all-fabric sex shop, Madame Roxy's Erotic Emporium. A new version of the installation opens at Montreal's Station 16 gallery June 10. (Courtesy of Lucy Sparrow)

Warning: What you are about to see is soft-core pornography.

Soft.

Warm and fuzzy, even — because every last item in the photos below is made out of felt. They're all the creations of UK artist Lucy Sparrow, and June 10 in Montreal she's bringing her first major installation to North America, Lucy Sparrow's Erotic Emporium: Le Sex Shop Feutré. 

It's a spin-off, of sorts, to a show she created in London's Soho neighbourhood last fall. Sparrow opened a sex shop where everything, including the walls, were stitched or knitted — a spectacle that drew crowds, not to mention a few confused customers in the market for less absorbent wares. 

Inside Lucy Sparrow's all-felt installation in Soho. (Lucy Sparrow/www.sewyoursoul.co.uk)

This summer, Sparrow will set up shop inside Montreal's Station 16 gallery as part of the city's Mural Festival, turning a corner of the space into a functioning love boutique, one stocked with an inventory of 4,000+ items, each hand sewn and (puffy) painted by the artist. 

There are felt Hustler mags, felt porno DVDs, felt handcuffs and ball-gags and buttplugs: plush replicas researched during a two-day spree through Amsterdam. There's even felt lube for the customer who considers "irony" a major turn-on, one more item in a collection that took Sparrow half a year to create.  

A selection of titles available in Lucy Sparrow's Erotic Emporium. (Lucy Sparrow/Station 16 Gallery)
(Courtesy of Lucy Sparrow)
(Courtesy of Lucy Sparrow)

It's certainly not the first sex shop on the lower Main, though it's likely the first of its kind, and as Sparrow tells CBC Arts, her Erotic Emporium is ultimately a celebration of nostalgia.

Installation in progress! Lucy Sparrow sets up her Erotic Emporium at Station 16 in Montreal. (Twitter/@station16mtl)

Why Montreal?

After wrapping up in London, "I never thought about taking it anywhere else," Sparrow says of the piece. Soho, as a location, was such a major part of the installation's story. It's a neighbourhood where gentrification is gradually sanitizing the "adults-only" shops and clubs that once defined it. Station 16, on St. Laurent Blvd. isn't far from Montreal's own storied red light district — itself now made over into the Quartier des spectacles, though some seedy hold-outs remain.

(Courtesy of Lucy Sparrow)
(Courtesy of Lucy Sparrow)
When she says everything is felt, she means everything -- right down to the pricing guns. (Twitter/@sewyoursoul)

"The street the gallery is on used to be the Montreal version of Soho. It was another perfect location," says Sparrow, who was asked in the spring to bring her installation to the city. "There's still peep shows, there's still adult cinemas open but not as many as there were. You've still got that little feel of it being slightly on edge, if not quite on the edge of being gentrified," she says.

Nostalgia for a fading community is a part of the project, but there's a more personal side to the work, she explains.

(Lucy Sparrow/www.sewyoursoul.co.uk)

Feeling nostalgic

To fund her early art career, Sparrow spent five years as a lap dancer. "When you're first starting out you can't really make enough money to live," she says, and her time working in the adult industry was hugely influential. "I was so inspired by it — this whole other world that most people aren't necessarily aware of. It's not romantic, she explains, "it's very every day."

"I think [the installation] would have come across a little different if I wasn't speaking from experience," she says. "It was a real celebration of the industry, the time."

And while you can't exactly call an anthropomorphized vibrator "mundane," there's something about turning a sex shop into a real life Colourforms play set that totally defuses taboo.

50 shades of felt, if not more, inside the Soho installation. (Lucy Sparrow/www.sewyoursoul.co.uk)

Felt up

"It's very hard to get angry with felt," says Sparrow. "Things automatically look cute when you make them out of fabric. It's absolutely unavoidable."

That's made "feltism," as Sparrow calls her practice, an ideal medium for hard topics. Prior to her sex shop show, she stockpiled enough plushie weapons to fill a space in London's Boxpark for the May 2015 installation, The Warmongery.

This way to the sock-puppet peep show? (Lucy Sparrow/www.sewyoursoul.co.uk)

"Felt does sort of turn things on their heads. It's an excellent medium for stuff like this," she says. "That's the running theme that goes through my work: presenting things in a different way. It's something very simple, but very effective."

Artist Lucy Sparrow (centre) inside her installation at Montreal's Station 16 Gallery. (Twitter/@station16mtl)

Lucy Sparrow's Erotic Emporium: Le Sex Shop Feutre. June 10-July 1 at Station 16 Gallery, Montreal. www.station16gallery.com. (18+)

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