Plant Connoisseurs’ Club with Bompas & Parr

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“Those who don’t believe in magic, will never find it.” – Roald Dalhl

Back in September 2014, the creative team at Bompas & Parr presented a series of workshops at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, exploring psychoactive plants, stimulating botanicals and other mind-altering magic, much to the delight of curious Londoners. As part of Kew’s Intoxication Season, Bompas & Parr took over the Secluded Glasshouse on weekends, and created an immersive, theatrical locale for budding plant connoisseurs to expand their minds by learning about other cultures’ perspectives on natural-born plant intoxicants.

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The site-specific location at historical Kew Gardens couldn’t be more perfect – against a historical context, and with the guidance of ethnobotanists, toxicologists, drugs historians and medics, the workshops examined our collective attitude to drugs and contrasting our own socially acceptable substances – tobacco, alcohol and caffeine – with other less familiar stimulants and sedatives. Best of all, adventurous types could also seek spiritual enlightenment with the Grand Master host, by directly sampling a small amount of one of four plant-products that are widely consumed on a global basis, but which we’re less familiar with in the UK. 

Along the way, some thoughtful questions about mankind’s ubiquitous use of intoxicants were discussed, “Though entertaining, this is a serious endeavour that provokes participants to think again about societal attitudes to drugs. I’m hoping that this candid and practical workshop opens the doors of perception on the impact of future use of stimulating, mind-altering and possibly consciousness-enhancing substances and the consequences for individuals and society,” says toxicologist Dr Nick Edwards.

Harry Parr says: “Seeking out and sampling intoxicants of varying kinds is a ubiquitous facet of human life, but our experience of different substances varies hugely according to our individual cultures. Through these workshops we are challenging our guests to reevaluate our own relationships with drugs.”

Indeed, an unusual and thought-provoking experiment which we only wish will return to Kew Gardens in future, so that more people get a chance to experience it! 

ABOUT BOMPAS & PARR

Bompas & Parr leads in flavour-based experience design, culinary research, architectural installations and contemporary food design. Founded by Sam Bompas and Harry Parr in 2007, the early work of the studio used jelly as a vehicle to research the cross-modal correspondences of the senses and the relationship between food and architecture. 

The studio first came to prominence through its expertise in jelly-making, but has since gone on tocreate immersive flavour-based experiences ranging from an inhabitable cloud of gin and tonic, the world’s first multi-sensory fireworks and a Taste Experience for the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, officially the best place to taste Guinness in the world. The studio now consists of a team of creatives, cooks, designers, specialised technicians and architects. With Sam Bompas and Harry Parr the team works to experiment, develop, produce and install projects, artworks, jellies and exhibitions, as well as archiving, communicating, and contextualising the work. Bompas & Parr also collaborates with specialist technicians, engineers, artists, scientists, musicians and many other disciplines to create wondrous events.

Bompas & Parr has written three cookbooks, published in London and New York, and recently published a fourth Tutti Frutti with Bompas & Parr and Friends through Bompas & Parr Editions the studio’s publishing house dedicated to printing niche food publications, both contemporary and historic. The studio works with some of the biggest companies and the world’s foremost cultural institutions to give people emotionally compelling or inspiring experiences.

Bompas & Parr has exhibited at Barbican Art Gallery, Garage Center for Contemporary Culture, Salon del Mobile, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Serpentine Gallery, Victoria & Albert Museum and the Wellcome Collection and collaborated with such firms as Diageo, Cargill, Selfridges, Disney, Louis Vuitton, Unilever, Vodafone, Kraft Foods, Heinz and Mercedes-Benz.

All images courtesy of Bompas & Parr / Follow on Instagram and Twitter
Set design by Emma Rios / Illustration by Katie Scott

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