Born and raised in London Bridge, the local experience designer Sam Bompas, is one half of the experimental design house Bompas and Parr. Famed for their iconic jellies and other experience led happenings, one of his favourite places in London remains to be Borough Market.
Tell us about how Bompas met Parr and how this relationship evolved to inspire the jelly creations.
Harry (Parr) and I have known each other for a terribly long time. We were both in the same orchestra as kids, Harry played the cello and I played the violin but we were not actually any good. I think we both just made sure that our bows were going in the right direction, so it looked like we were actually doing something without making too much noise. I lived in London Bridge and Harry in Bermondsey, and between our houses was Borough Market. We loved going there and eight years ago had a thought, ‘wouldn’t it be fun to set up a stall there on the weekends?’ We thought jelly would be genius! It would be cheap to make and we wouldn’t need much kit to make it. Little did we know what we were letting ourselves in for! We needed a lot of kitchenalia and jelly moulds, and with Harry’s architectural background, we set out make our own.
What is it about food that moves you, and why is it your chosen medium for moving others?
What we have learned about food is that it evokes a very powerful emotional reaction in people. The great thing about it is that you get to engage with people on an intellectual level but not in an elitist level because you don’t have to understand its entire context or history to really ‘get’ food. Everyone is an expert because everyone is eating three times a day. To me, one person’s palate is as valid as anyone else’s. Food is very universal and we get to deal with the joyfulness of it.
Bompas and Parr are responsible for immersive experiences such as an aphrodisiacal Shakespearean maze, a toothpaste-inspired ice cream tasting, an inhale-able whiskey tornado, and a drive-through buffet during London Fashion Week. Where do you find your inspiration?
I still can’t believe that we are getting paid to do what we do. It’s pretty wild! Essentially I get obsessed with strange and wonderful things; sound waves, rare fruit, volcanoes, Cymatics and explosives! That is where the inspiration comes from.
So which projects have you been most proud of to date?
MULTISENSORY FIREWORKS - Last year we worked with Vodafone, in partnership with the Mayor of London, to create the world’s first mutli-sensory firework display for London’s New Year’s Eve. Visitors watching London’s fireworks between Westminster Bridge and Hungerford Bridge got to experience a total sensory assault with the different coloured fireworks matched to fruity flavours. So as red pyrotechnics exploded in the sky, the city was engulfed in a strawberry flavoured cloud.
ALCOHOLIC ARCHITECTURE - We’ve launched Alcoholic Architecture featuring a walk-in cloud of breathable cocktail. The installation is an alcoholic weather system for your tongue where meteorology and mixology collide against a canvas of monastic mayhem, referencing the gothic splendour of neighbouring Southwark Cathedral and Borough Market.
COOKING WITH LAVA - Go into the kitchen of a top steak restaurant and you’re likely to find a £18,000 Josper oven, favoured by chefs for its searing 300°C cooking temperature. At Bompas & Parr we didn’t think that was anywhere near hot enough, we headed to Syracuse University in upstate New York, where Professor Robert Wysocki has over-clocked an industrial bronze furnace and is busy working up an expertise in creating artificial volcanos and streams of man-made lava. Prof Wysocki and his team have done 100 lava pours so far, for artistic and scientific purposes, but have never actually used the lava’s 2,100°F heat to do something as ubiquitous as cooking.
BOMPAS & PARR'S FUNLAND: Pleasures & Perils of the Erotic Fairground Museum of Sex, New York City Last summer saw the launch of our FUNLAND: Pleasures & Perils of the Erotic Fairground, an art installation in New York featuring a selection of carnival inspired attractions for audiences to enjoy and experience while they contemplate the sexual subtext of carnivals. This immersive exhibition, commissioned by the Museum of Sex, features five attractions designed to stimulate all five senses in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Physical, visual and olfactory experiences are utilized to give the audience a breathless rush of endorphins (similar to those released at the point of orgasm), challenge their strength and agility, and allow them to compete with and impress friends and lovers and to share the love with other visitors.
Why did you chose Borough Market above all the others to launch the Alcoholic Architecture project?
It was a whole nexus really. In a very practical way, Borough Market has been feeding me for the last fifteen years. We also have a good relationship, and I just think that Borough Market has really come into its own again. I think they have consolidated what makes a market good.
Tell us about your life in SE1 and why London Bridge is special to you?
I was born at Guys Hospital, my parents married in Southwark Cathedral, and more recently I have been living in the area for fifteen years. Culturally, there is just so much more happening here, yet within all the new developments and popularity there is still so much community spirit here. I’m quite interested in how the centre of London shifts about. I remember some time ago some of my friends refused to come down here saying that the area was in the middle of nowhere. Now the centre of London has headed east and we feel quite central.
Do you have any hidden gems in the area that you can share with us?
We work with Merge Festival and they showcase a lot of undiscovered interesting cultural spaces in the area. The Kirkaldy Testing Museum is one of them, it contains the world’s most powerful beam engine. There is also Cross Bones Graveyard and the Boot and Flogger, which was the only place in the country that could serve alcohol without a license. El Vergel is a great little Latin place close by where I often grab lunch. My favourite pub is the beautiful Lord Clyde, which has been in the same family for three generations. There is a great barbers called Southwark Barbers, they have basically changed my life. I see Nick the barber more than I see my friends! He is amazing and has really good hands, he tells you how he will cut your hair, not the other way round.
Bompas & Parr will create a sensory winter experience at The View From The Shard which will open 23rd November. Keep an eye on the for more #ShardSnow news!