I first heard of Bompas & Parr last year when they did their cake inspired seven wonders of London crazy golf course on Selfridge’s rooftop, and have been a fan of their fun, eccentric, but contextually relevant projects ever since, so when I found out about their Tutti Frutti installation, I had to go down and experience it for myself. I did watch the video on their website before I went so I knew roughly what it was going to be like, but I kept my friend in the dark to see what her reaction was.
The installation is on the Palm House Pond and is split into two participation activities depending on whether you’re happy staying on land, or want to get more stuck in and jump in a rowing boat. For those who want to stay on dry land, you can experience a tiered island which has a ‘giant’ golden pineapple sitting on the highest tier, and a bed of plants running around the middle tier. In collaboration with the sonic artist Milecce, the plant leaves have been connected with electrodes that trigger sounds when people touch the leaves or the wind blows, creating a random ever changing background music for the island. The uprights of the tiers have been wrapped in a colourful fruit inspired print designed by Kit Neale, who also designed the staff uniforms. Part two of the participation is hidden underneath the island, which you can only access by rowing boat….
When you collect your fruit named boat, you’re given a pair of Tutti Frutti glasses which have prismatic lenses that create twinkles of rainbow light rays when you look at the reflections on the water and on the Palm House. You’re told to head towards the island and enter into the Banana Grotto which is a tunnel filled with banana scented mist and spotlights which radiate rainbow light shards with your glasses on.
As my friend and I approached the lake, we both let out a disappointed ‘oh’ at the size of the giant pineapple. Fair enough, it is giant when you compare it to a normal pineapple, but the IncrEdibles poster leads you to believe it’s huge, and even on the Bompas & Parr video, I was given the impression it was larger than it is. We could hear other peoples’ reactions too…one guy saying, ‘So that’s the giant pineapple, all six inches of it!’ Not a great initial reaction but we had the rowing experience to come so that should be better right?
Yes and no. We had a laugh on the boats- my shocking rowing skills and bad coordination just had us going round in circles…boat circles, not professional looking lake laps! And the glasses worked really well creating trippy light effects which, combined with the pling plongy sounds of the island plants, created quite a disorientating experience. The Banana Grotto on the other hand was a bit of a let down. The smell was amazing, but both my friend and I felt like the tunnel needed a little something else rather than just the spotlights which reacted with your glasses. My friend was also expecting fruit shaped/dressed boats as shown on the promotional poster rather than just been a boat named after a fruit.
Back on dry land, we headed to the island and the plant sound interaction worked really well- it’s such a nice idea which I think could be used more in interactive environments. We also learnt that Bompas & Parr chose to crown the island with a pineapple because of Kew’s extensive Bromeliad collection. It’s those little contextual details which I think Bompas & Parr do so well.
Overall I enjoyed the experience…yeah there were a few things that I was disappointed with, but the boating experience was only an extra fiver on top of Kew’s entry price, which you’d pay to hire a rowing boat elsewhere with no interaction element thrown in. It does make me think that nowadays people expect so much from experiences. I don’t know what the budget was for the installation, but if it was quite stretched, it might have been better to substitute one element to enhance another to make sure that visitors experienced a single intense IncrEdible experience, opposed to two almost-there-but-not-quite experiences.
If you do head down there, definitely visit the the Rose garden Tea Party- a clever, witty and simple installation.