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Bompas & Parr Take Us On A Polysensorial Adventure
by Mona Bavar
“There is no life I know to compare with pure imagination. Living there you'll be free if you truly wish to be.”
~ Willy Wonka
For Sam Bompass and Harry Parr food is the perfect medium for creating immersive polysensory experiences that are a mix of adventure and entertainment. From flavour changing chewing gum to steaks cooked with lava and lightning, inhalable gin clouds to architectural jelly, Bompas & Parr projects are audacious, immersive and stimulating.
The inventive duo works with a team of over 20 people, including artists, scientists, psychologists and engineers, to construct new worlds and create fantasies. From their laboratory in London, the geniuses are relentlessly exploring outrageous ways to push the boundaries of our imagination. Their latest project, DIY Decadence, addresses the limitations of lockdown and social distancing by inviting friends and followers to create fantastical feasts using leftovers. The finished project will be published by Bompas & Parr Editions.
Recently, the visionaries announced the launch of their first international studio in Hong Kong, defying a global pandemic and spreading their magic.
DLISH was granted a peek into the eccentric world of Bompas & Parr and we loved what we saw.
Mona Bavar: What is the story behind the birth of Bompas & Parr?
Bompas & Parr: Harry and I have known each other since we’ve been 13 and our tastes and interests have always intertwined. Back in 2007 we decided to start an artisanal jelly company and it’s mushroomed from there.
MB: If I am not mistaken, jelly was the foundation on which Bompas & Parr was build upon. Why Jelly?
B&P: Jelly is a marvellous and mesmerising material, especially when it wobbles! It is one of the dishes the British excelled at, being a vector for innovation, flavour and technology. In the 19th Century jelly moulds used early electroforming technology and were created by the same firm that gilded the finials of St Paul’s Cathedral. Our initial work continued this tradition using the architectural techniques such as CAD design and 3D printing in the world of food and drink.
Jelly Architecture by Bompas & Parr
MB: How do you and Harry Parr contribute to each creation?
B&P: Harry says I make problems and he solves them. I say I get the readies and he spends them (but also saves enough for a successful business). It is always a good balance. We’ve now sat side by side for over a decade so we’ve got a good understanding and respect for one another’s abilities. Still thrilling how Harry will teach himself a new skill over a weekend be it plumping, programming or technical approaches to extreme health and safety. Much needed with some of the projects!
MB: Where do you find inspiration for your ideas? What is your process?
B&P: These are two huge questions but I’m keen not to mystify the process.
In a sentence:
Whatever the brief or challenge we study the ten most significant historic precedents, codify them then look at how new industries, knowledges, collaborators and technologies could create something genuinely new. Our watchwords are ‘world firsts’ from flavour changing chewing gum to steaks cooked with lava and lightning, to innovating in entire genres like food design, pop-ups, experiential marketing.
One ongoing project is the foundation of the British Museum of Food, the world’s first cultural institution about the entirety of this important subject. To accelerate our learning we look to the foundation of more recent museums like the Design Museum and Photographer’s Gallery and earlier institutions like the Royal Academy, British Museum and National Gallery.
MB: What is the creation you are most proud of?
B&P: Keeping the show on the road at B&P for almost thirteen years and in that time working with scores of talented team-members who have gone on to forge remarkable businesses of their own. Ex interns are now our clients, the directors of powerful companies, others are lead designers on ongoing projects.
Lost Lagoon by Bompas & Parr
MB: How did the Bompas & Parr Editions come to life?
B&P: Because the other main-stream publishing houses we work with didn’t have the time and inclination to turn round some of more rare, strange or obscure works we were interested in publishing. So we did it ourselves.
Some of the publications range from Memoirs of a Stomach illustrated with pill cam footage from within a human digestive tract to Tutti Frutti a book about the zesty pleasures of fruit salad. Our most recent publication was Ode to an Egg, a slim volume of egg based versre. And we’ll shortly publish a book around DIY Decadence one of the at home projects we’ve been doing to keep lock-down stimulating and varied.
MB: In the Fluid Landscapes Report 2020 - Exploring behaviour change and creative concepts in a global pandemic, you talk about how our changing behaviours will shape creative ideas, both 'Mid-Coronavirus world' and 'Post-Coronavirus world'. One idea you talk about is Mind Tasting. Can you tell us a little about the concept?
B&P: Mind Tasting provides you with the roadmap for an enhanced and mindful celebration of what’s on the end of your fork. The idea of really paying attention to what you are masticating and being aware of how this can be manipulated but additional sensory inputs. It effectively allows you to do a lively tasting with whatever’s in your pantry, the principles of mindfulness applied to a lusty plate.
MB: Some believe that as a result of COVID-19 we will go back to traditional ways of producing, preparing and consuming food, and spend less time dining out or searching for experiences around food. Do you believe this to be the case?
B&P: The implications will be far more fragmented and wide reaching. Fear will hold sway but as TS Elliot says, ‘Anxiety is the handmaiden of creativity.’
Butterfly Biosphere by Bompas & Parr
MB: Bompas & Parr creations focus on multi-sensory experiences. Do you think this can be done virtually? How?
B&P: Every experience is multisensory. The room you are reading this in has a smell, you can feel something beneath your fingertips… be aware of that. We prefer to use the term poly-sensory, indicating that each sensory input has been consciously orchestrated to deliver a specific narrative.
Virtual experiences, like many of the lock down, quizzes, virtual club nights and gallery viewings are crap versions of the real embodied event. I prefer to spend my time with entertainment forms that have had millennia refining them to a peak which can be enjoyed in social distancing – like reading books! What is the point in dabbling in new form when people are still working it out. On the table in front of me are 13 books and I’m reading them all to a greater and lesser degree and traveling thorough disciplines, perspective, countries and historical eras.
MB: Are you planning on doing any virtual events?
B&P: We are currently hosting a virtual exhibition of Fountain of Hygiene, our sanitiser design competition with the design museum - the designs and ideas are remarkable. As soon as it is safe and possible we’ll have a IRL display at the design museum. The purpose of the design competition is to look at how design artefacts can safely move people back into the public realm with confidence.
MB: How are you dealing with lockdown?
B&P: It’s certainly not dull! Yesterday we hosted an in-house exhibition of all the works we’d collectively realised on lockdown. The whole thing was a spoof but at least heartening to see what had been realised. From papier-mâché fondu volcanos from our night of 10,000 cheeses to DIY fireworks.
Bompas & Parr
MB: How do you think social distancing will impact the experiences your company creates for people?
B&P: Absolutely but the experience landscape is ever changing. Right now you can read our Fluid Landscapes report. We are just finishing writing a fresh report that outlines what the creative and experiential implications of a post-lockdown Christmas might be. This incorporates the new laws of design. We’ll launch in the next couple weeks so watch out for it on our newsletter and social @bompasandparr.
MB: Any suggestions for our readers for 'thriving, not just surviving' during this period of social distancing?
B&P: Everyone will have a different approach that works for them. B&P normally does so many events that we made an in-house two month event schedule with a couple events each week that were out of the ordinary easy to do on a humble scale (paper air-plane air show, coffee cupping, burns night, baroque flambee) and regular scheduled events (a weekly tree climbing club -branch bunch). Lockdown now has a bit more tang.
MB: What is your favorite cocktail? Recipe?
B&P: Eskimos have 49 words for snow. The English Language has over 3,900 words for experiences associated with drinking. So a single cocktail doesn’t cut it. I love exploring the flavor implications of dark spirits without ice. The best thing I drank recently was Long Pond 2007 tropical aged rum. It is like having a Panamax container ship with a cargo of bananas driven down your gullet.
MB: Bompas & Parr are great storytellers, what story would you like to be told to future generations, who will have only heard about COVID-19 in history books?
B&P: Perhaps euphoric recall means that one day we’ll look back on lockdown with dark nostalgia…
Click here to see more of the Bompas & Parr creations.