Lucy Sparrow has taken over Lyndsey Ingram’s Mayfair gallery and turned it into a rather convincing looking local pharmacy. Apparently, passing workmen and couriers have been knocking on the door looking for paracetamol.
The Bourden Street Chemist is filled to the rafters with everything from first aid to family planning and beauty products with the more serious stuff neatly stacked behind the counter. Sparrow dispends her prescriptions personally and also appears in the public health videos playing on a loop to keep you entertained and well informed while waiting your turn.
The last time I had this much fun surrounded by medicine packs and white coats was when Damien Hirst had everyone wait around the block at his Notting Hill Pharmacy in the late 90s. The queues would be just as long down Bourden Street if it weren’t for post-lockdown restrictions. Being limited to just a handful of visitors at a time makes for a relaxed and intimate experience – perfect for those embarrassing questions or more personal requests.
And while Hirst’s anatomical dummy sculpture may be more biologically accurate, Lucy Sparrow’s version is a lot more fun as, just like everything else on display, it is made entirely of felt. Being surrounded by 15,000 handmade objects is utterly overwhelming and the artist’s attention to detail just awe-inspiring. The antibacterial dispenser you are asked to use on entry actually works and the space looks and smells cleaner than your average high street chemist.
Being handed a list of goods for sale and a basket on entry, it is tough to decide between the 800 (!) product lines on display. With choices led by aesthetics rather than ailments, especially when this is your first non-essential shopping experience in months, I finally settled on a bottle of hand sanitiser as a suitable memento. Apparently, stocks of valium were already running low on the first day of opening!
I didn’t even spot all the vintage potions and bottled poisons in the window until I left. Happy to see that most products are also available from a dedicated National Felt Service website, I may yet add to my collection before it’s all gone. I treasure previous felt works from the 2014 East London corner shop or “Madame Roxy’s Erotic Emporium’ a year later in Soho.
Whilst first and foremost providing a cheerful and happy experience, Sparrow’s installations are a nostalgic commentary on the breakdown of a society at the heart of which used to be the local high street with its corner shops and independent chemists. There are none in walking distance of the gallery and the sleaze has long been banished from Soho. I initially misinterpreted the NFT logo as ‘not for sale’ in reference to the NHS being sold off and will wear my little badge with pride.
A lot of felt has passed since the last London show while the artist expanded her portfolio to an American delicatessen and a replica art museum in China. Every item is hand-stitched and hand-painted passing through Lucy Sparrow’s hands at least twice.
The Bourden Street Chemist was a year in the making. It is Lucy Sparrow’s seventh major installation and was originally scheduled to open in January but had to be postponed for obvious reasons. Open by appointment until 8 May, or until the shelves are empty. A small number of walk-ins may be possible for emergency felt consultations.