Tucked away in an inconspicuous corner of Borough market; in the shadow of the ominous Southwark Cathedral, Bompas & Parr’s latest project, the British Museum of Food, has opened its doors.
The chaps who, for some obscure – and fairly tenuous – reasons, sent coffee into space, created the fastest cheese trolley in existence, and filled a room with an alcoholic mist that inebriates guests by way of their eyeballs are proud to call their new venture the first museum of its kind – beating New York’s Museum of Food and Drink (MOFAD) to the punch by a week.
The exhibition itself is interesting enough: four small, interactive exhibits that at first may strike one as ‘a bit of fun,’ as opposed to genuinely ground breaking. But, there is actually a lot more to this small, slightly disjointed cluster of installations than initially meets the eye.
Speaking to Sam Bompas, it is clear from his mushroom print shirt and pointy up hair that he is not your average museum curator.
“Most museums are ossuaries for old stuff that people ascribe value to”
“Most museums now,” he says, “are ossuaries for old stuff that people ascribe value to, and I think that is a very old-fashioned way of looking at them.”
The British Museum of Food is more of an indoor theme park than a conventional museum.
The first room features Be the Bolus, an exhibit that takes the viewer on a multi-sensational journey through the gut.
At first glance it seems like a poor man’s version of a simulator machine; the sort that are found in science museums where you board a futuristic looking box on stilts and are taken on a journey through space.
Instead of an odyssey through the outer reaches of the galaxy, however, the viewer is taken on a trip through the gastro-intestinal tract while being aggressively rubbed up and down in a Kubrick-esque massage chair.
After being pummelled into a purgatory between euphoria and physical pain, the guests must move on to the second room.
Here they are faced with four curtained chambers, each containing a bowl of chocolate and a speaker.
Sounds are played – a different one in each – and the chocolate must be eaten and rated on how bitter or sweet, creamy or chalky they are.
Entitled Choco-Phonica, the installation explores the effect of sound on taste, and is part of a research study on synaesthesia conducted by academics from Oxford University.Up the staircase, past the walls lined with various food themed photographs and paintings, and after a slight detour through the British Menu Archive, is The Butterfly Effect; by far the most awe-inspiring part of the Museum.
Through a heavy wooden door is a humid butterfly room, where giant, winged insects serenely flutter by.
A celebration of nature’s unknown pollinators, this exhibit, unlike its predecessors, takes more of an activist stance.
Butterflies represent the second largest group of pollinators in the world – behind bees – and the exhibit, while visually impressive, makes a case for their preservation.
For now, there remains a lot to be done. Perhaps this is the entrée as opposed to the main course, but even in its current state the British Museum of Food is thoroughly enjoyable.
“I think that the museums that will be successful in the future will become a lot more engaging,” says Bompas, “a sort of laboratory for human interaction, experimentation, or conviviality, just like food.”
For the enigmatic pair, unlike art, food is a field in which everyone is an expert. “[People] engage with it three times a day, so every opinion is valid,” they say.
“I think that the museums that will be successful in the future will become a lot more engaging, a sort of laboratory for human interaction, experimentation, or conviviality, just like food.”
While it is evident that The British Museum of Food is still in its development stages, there is one important point that this kooky duo raises: museums do not have to remain the hallowed places that they have been.
An exhibition does not have to be a monologue, delivered by the divine artist to their mortal audience, we do not have to be preached to by painters on pedestals, or feel stupid because we don’t “get it.”
While small in size, and disjointed in presentation, the British Museum of Food represents something unquantifiable for the future of museums.
It is a place that welcomes the views of its guests and demands of them one thing: to have fun.
The Museum of Food, Borough Market, Southwark, London
Entry is £5 for adults and £4 for under-16s.
Featured image from Bompas & Parr.