All product images courtesy of the artist
This article contains adult content. This sex shop is bursting at the seams with all your adult needs, wants and desires—bondage gear, flavoured condoms, porn DVDs, poppers, Playboy mags, penis enlargers, and vibrators. Only thing is, every single item has been hand stitched from felt and decorated with a healthy dose of puff paint, glitter glue, metallic thread, and sequins. Who knew sex toys could be so cute? The 5,000 products are currently on display in an actual shop in London’s Soho district, where punters can go in, browse and buy. The installation, dubbed Madame Roxy’s Erotic Emporium, comments on both the increasing gentrification of London’s historic red light district and recent British porn censorship laws. We caught up with artist Lucy Sparrow to find out more about what inspired her to sew sex toys and her own experiences of being a stripper.
The Creators Project: What’s your personal connection to London’s Soho? Do you have any personal anecdotes or special memories about the place?Lucy Sparrow: I used to work in a lap dancing club when I was a student and trying to raise money to put on my first art show. I was intrigued by the whole industry and the fact that sex looms so large in the underbelly of any modern city. Soho has long been known as the sex quarter of London, although that’s changing now with gentrification. I wanted to bring one last orgasmic gasp of sexiness to Soho before that side of its character disappears forever. Over the years Soho has been home to the louche and bohemian of London, and a favourite hangout for writers and artists. It was in Soho that the legendary journalist Jeffrey Bernard used to hold court. The place was just an amazing part of London, and I’m afraid it's disappearing. This fact coupled with new laws on pornography and a push by some feminists to criminalize sex work galvanized me into action. I thought it was time someone made a stand. Some of the practices I depict in my felt porn magazines are now technically illegal to depict; I’m just wondering if the authorities will have the nerve to prosecute me for the depiction of pornographic acts in felt. Maybe someone will stitch me up.
Can you tell us a little bit about these new censorship laws and why they’re a step backwards?A whole range of sexual activities such as face sitting and female ejaculation—not male ejaculation, you’ll note—are now forbidden. Why? It’s almost as if we’re turning into a nation of Victorian prudes ready to collapse onto a fainting couch in a fit of the vapours. What’s wrong with us? Last time I looked at Wikipedia sex was a perfectly natural and normal activity and none of us would be on this earth without it. The disapproval of sex, pornography and fetish goes hand in hand with the increasing intolerance towards free speech by the new generation of politically correct delicate flowers and third-wave feminists who need protecting and to have safe spaces lest they are damaged.
As someone who has worked in the industry, what do you think are some of the biggest challenges facing adult entertainment workers?I think the move to get sex work and pornography regulated and criminalized in various parts of the world is problematic. While I wholeheartedly disapprove of people being trafficked for sex, I clearly support the right of sex workers who make an informed choice to work in that industry to do so. It’s their body and their right. It’s not for male politicians, religious types or feminists to proscribe what they can do with their own bodies.
Your sex shop features thousands of products. What sort of research did you do in creating this body of work and all of these products?I’ve visited so many sex shops looking at products. I’ve visited trade shows and researched online to find out some of the more bizarre and obscure sex accessories and implements. It’s been quite an education. One of the companies that probably sells the most sex accessories is a company called Love Honey, which was founded in my home town of Bath. Incredible to think that the staid and strait-laced Georgian city of Jane Austen could have spawned such a business. Just goes to show that sex isn’t just for Soho.Have you always worked with felt in your art practice? Why do you love it as a material?Felt is easy to work with and comes in a myriad of colours. It’s such a childlike and naïve material that no one expects it to be subverted in the way that I subvert it. I think it’s the juxtaposition of a childlike material being used to comment on adult and consumer themes that takes so many people by surprise. It works for me.
Madame Roxy's Erotic Emporium is open until October 17. If you can't make it to Soho, some of the products are available to purchase online here. You can find out more about Lucy Sparrow on her website or follow her on Instagram.A version of this post originally appeared on The Creators Project Australia. Related:We Talked to the Artist Burning Sex Toys for GhostsArtist Insulted By Donald Trump Turns Him Into a Butt PlugClick Here for Guilt-Free Porn