The architecture of the show: Bompas and Parr

It seems thereis not beyond the reach of longtime friends and designers Sam Bompas and Harry Parr. The London-based duo have a proven knack for turning the impossible into reality, creating whimsical, logic-defying interventions that challenge our assumptions about the meaning of food. Over the years, their eponymous studio “Bompas and Parr” has concocted inhalable fruit installations, developed a church organ that elevates whiskey appreciation, concocted the “world’s lightest dessert” and cooked dinner on lava siphoned directly from a volcano. Driven by a deep interest in culinary history, a strong appetite for experimentation, and a deep appreciation for the unexpected, the experiences created by the studio push our understanding of food – and sometimes architecture – into new territories. .

“We are very inspired by [English poet and printmaker] William Blake, who suffered from a condition called hyperphantasia, where his imagination was almost as tangible as the real world around him,” says Bompas.

Alcoholic Architecture, one of the studio’s first projects, is a good example. Staged in 2009, the project vaporized gin and tonic to create a cocktail “cloud” that could be inhaled from the atmosphere, rather than drunk from a container. Originally titled “Clouded Judgement,” the project spatialized the elements of the edible, making them habitable and transforming the ritual of social consumption.

Alcoholic Architecture, 2009.

Image: Dan Price

“We try to create things that people are excited to participate in,” says Bompas. “At the beginning, we had no investment or public funding. In order to do the next event, we needed to sell tickets, which is a very good discipline in terms of creative work, so that you’re not just doing it for yourself or some taste keeper – you’re actually do something that attracts people, that they can be a part of.

In the fifteen years since the studio’s founding, it has grown from its early days of handcrafting jelly to the large-scale logistics of designing immersive experiences that evoke wonder on a grand scale. New Year’s Eve 2014 saw the practice envelope London in fruit-flavored smoke matched by fireworks over the River Thames, while in November last year two ‘rainbows of flavors celebrating London’s history as a gateway to the global food trade materialized in the sky above the city’s Royal Docks.

These fantastic ideas combined with an egalitarian philosophy are at the heart of the studio’s approach. “We don’t discriminate between customers,” says Bompas. “Our main goal is to create things that energize people and make them feel like they are never seen.”

Orchestrating such acts of transcendent wonder is no mean feat. What was once a collaborative venture between two friends has now become a South London headquarters housing a large library, workshop space, experimental prototyping rooms and test kitchen conjuring up such fantastical creations as – the day Bompas and I spoke – an “aero-foie gras.” And the duo are keen to give credit where it’s due.

“All of our productions are ensembles, not just within our organization, but in that we work with a lot of outside contractors, like a theater production,” Bompas explains. British experimental psychologist Charles Spence and New York-based performance artist Robert Wysocki are among the studio’s best-known collaborators — though that list is growing fast. In a project this year, the practice worked alongside artificial intelligence scientist Shama Raman to offer attendees the chance to dine with British figures – Shakespeare, Darwin among them – brought to life using AI technologies.

Benham and Froud Jelladrome.

Benham and Froud Jelladrome.

Image: Bompas and Parr

While a sense of taste is central to much of the studio’s work, other projects, such as their competition-winning design for a vegan guest suite at the Hilton London Bankside in 2019, challenge others. dimensions of food, taking it from a primarily gustatory approach. phenomenon in the field of haptics.

“The question was how do you create a total vegan guest experience, from everything from the check-in counter, to the key cards, to the dinner menus as well as the suite itself?” Bonpas explains. Central to the concept and material palette was the use of Piñatex, a vegan leather created from the cellulose fibers of pineapple.

“Pineapples are an important architectural ornament [in London] and were once symbols of welcome that derived from the fact that if your ship arrived during the risky days of early commercial shipping, you could have a pineapple on your bow and tailgate post to show how rich you were,” explains Boom. “There are pineapples on Lambeth Bridge, in the Borough Market, at St Paul’s Cathedral – and if you draw lines between all these places they triangulate on the hotel!”

“We’re very interested in the story of human amusement and pleasure and how that can become a place-making element for a new city,” says Bompas.

Bompas and Parr’s work is certainly not limited to the high intellectual – on the contrary, the studio’s founders are passionate about staging experiences for everyone. They cite the carnival atmospheres of fairgrounds and fairgrounds as major sources of inspiration and shedding new light on the most banal and little-known subjects is undeniably their strong point.

Vegan guest costume at the Hilton Hotel, 2019.

Vegan guest costume at the Hilton Hotel, 2019.

Image: Hilton London Bankside

Take the Vomit Vault of London. A more provocative project the practice carried out late last year saw an underground vault transformed into a museum that included ‘sickening’ perfumes, mouthwash-themed cocktails and an exhibit of ‘vomit photography’. which documented the return of post-lockdown London urban nightlife and its pleasures and regrets. With such a reviled subject as its central theme, how has the show been received? “The exhibition was fairly well attended,” recalls Bompas, “although we did not sell a single work of art in the form of format images. What was really exciting was the guestbook. People had their own contributors and stories about vomit and excess that were beyond awful, but also full of humanity, caring and humor. We have [since] has published a book of comments from these visitors [as part of the legacy of the show].”

Besides their taste for the spectacle, Bompas and Parr have more serious ambitions. In what seems like the perfect progression of their passion for knowledge and learning, the two have founded the British Museum of Food – a new cultural institution “entirely devoted to history, evolution, science, to sociology and the art of food”. Beginning life in 2015 with a temporary multi-sensory installation in London’s Borough Markets, the duo are now seeking a permanent home for the project with the aim of turning it into a charity that could help shape policy around food and of education in the broad sense.

“We recently acquired the largest collection of ice creams in the world,” reveals Bompas, with characteristic enthusiasm. “If there’s one thing that excites many, many people, it’s ice cream. So it’s a very good portal to invite people to explore food in more depth. »

In the meantime, the studio has plenty of other events in the works – including one, thankfully, much closer to home. The studio is currently shaping an installation that features oversized fruit-of-life-themed “weather sculptures” — including edible mist — as part of the Casey Cornucopia Festival slated for Narre Warren in June.

“Casey has a long history of food production,” Bompas says, with a smile. “And the big fruit, well, I think the big fruit is something quintessentially Australian.”

The Casey Cornucopia Festival will be held June 25-July 17 at Bunjil Place, Narre Warren and will feature an immersive oversized sculpture garden and the world’s first edible mist from Bompas and Parr.

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