Bompas & Parr's SCOOP delves into the wonderful world of ice cream

Featuring glow-in-the-dark ice cream, a walk through freezer and a hundreds and thousands fountain, SCOOP is the exhibition you don’t want to miss this summer.

Launched on the 3rd of July 2018 and running until the 30th of September, SCOOP: A Wonderful Ice Cream World is the first exhibition curated by the British Museum of Food. Devoted to the history, evolution, science, and art of food, the British Museum of Food is the brain child of multi-sensory experience design company, Bompas & Parr.

After opening in 2015 and creating a series of pop-ups, SCOOP is the Museum’s inaugural exhibition; it explores the past, present and future of ice cream – but why showcase this sweet treat at the very first British Museum of Food exhibition? One half of Bompas & Parr’s founding duo, Sam Bompas, spoke to DesignCurial and revealed the reason for this choice.

Photo: Marcus Peel

“We wanted to get people to really look at what is on the end of the spoon,” says Bompas. “Ice Cream is a tremendous vector for a food exhibition as everyone has their own ice-cream stories, and yet there is a whole glorious history of the frozen dessert. 2018 is also the 300th anniversary of the world’s first printed ice-cream recipe so it's a pretty momentous year.”

“The bulk of the exhibition is drawn from ice-cream authors and experts, Caroline and Robin Weir’s mighty collection,” continues Bompas. In fact, the Weir’s collection contains “over 14,000 ice-cream based objects - so winnowing down to the very best that fit in the show has been a tremendous challenge. Each item has a story.” Parts of the collection have never been seen by the public before – giving SCOOP visitors an exclusive look at how ice cream has changed over time.

Photo: Bompas & Parr

Taking place at the Gasholders London, Kings Cross, the SCOOP experience begins as visitors enter through large glass double doors and step into Conehenge, the exhibition’s café. With furniture provided by Petite Friture, the café is bold and colourful, giving visitors the first glimpse of the quirky exhibition they are about to enter; the number of visitors allowed into the exhibition at one time is staggered by 10 minute intervals, so occasionally guests do have to wait for their time slot.

After waiting for our turn to enter the exhibition, we are ushered into the unknown through an archway, inscribed with ‘Lick and Learn’. When DesignCurial asked about this strap line after visiting SCOOP, Bompas said, “We are aiming for the show to be the first lick and learn exhibition - you can literally eat your way through ice-cream history and into the future.” As the rest of our SCOOP would show, Bompas & Parr’s British Museum of Food has certainly managed to pioneer an immersive, edible experience.

Photo: Bompas & Parr

The archway leads through into a small antechamber, where a video of Robin Weir has been set up; he gives an introduction to this ‘wonderful ice cream world’ before guests move through into a freezing ice box. A piece of glacial ice stands in the middle of the freezer; visitors are welcome to read the plaques surrounding it, which detail the history of ice shipping – if they can stand to stay in the sub-zero temperatures.

Some visitors leave the freezer more hastily than others, stepping through into the next part of the exhibition; a walk through three centuries of British and European ice cream history. The selection of objects - chosen from the Weir’s collection - includes ornate sorbet moulds used from as early as 1714 in Rome, and a tiered display of glass ‘penny-licks’ as the room’s centre showpiece. On the walls, plaques detail the rise and fall of these interesting objects, which were used by street venders in the 1980s.

Photo: Bompas & Parr

After reading through the history of ice cream, a corridor beckons our group into a very Willy Wonka-like experience. Within the corridor, guests are encouraged to press buttons and smell sections of the walls, where scented air reveals the different ice cream flavours of the past. After visitors have had their fill of the different scents – ranging from jasmine to rye bread, and everything in between – they might find themselves asked by SCOOP hosts to wait once more, before they can enter the next room.

The reason for this is that the next section of SCOOP is a ‘cooking class’. It’s a performative, immersive interpretation of Victorian ‘Queen of Ices’ Agnes B Marshall’s Cooking School, where visitors are encouraged to create their own ice cream using methods that Marshall created. We linger in the corridor as the class in front of us finished making their ice cream, before being invited into the space.

Photo: Marcus Peel

With a dash of cream and a drop of flavouring sealed into a specially constructed ice box, the class begins – three minutes of vigorously shaking the ice box like a cocktail-shaker, in an effort to manually turn the liquid into ice cream. Moments later, most people were left laughing with sticky hands, aching arms and a bowl of slush; it’s a good lesson in how much effort would have gone into creating these cold treats before modern technology.

After trying a morsel of our own shaken creations, our class is pointed through to the next section of the SCOOP exhibition – after all, another cooking class is imminent. Stepping through, we are surrounded by a bright display of artwork, press and memorabilia, all depicting ice cream and its place in popular culture. In fact, here visitors can find everything from the first pictorial evidence of an ice cream cone to cells from Disney and Looney Tunes animations – and even an original Andy Warhol print.

Photo: Marcus Peel

There is an interesting contrast to this vibrant area in the form of a curtained-off space to one side of the room; marked The Dark Side of Ice Cream, there is a sign stating that this section of the exhibition is for adults only. Slipping through the curtain, we find that the section tells the story of the 1980s Glasgow Ice Cream Wars, and the rival criminal organisations that used ice cream vans for their operations.

What is even more intriguing, however, is the next section of the SCOOP exhibition. Around the corner from the curtain, SCOOP has depicted their own vision of the future of ice cream through a collection of forward-thinking immersive experiences. The first is a chance to taste and smell a vanilla ice cream cloud that billows from the ceiling, next to a neon sign reading ‘breathe responsibly’; it’s easy to ignore this sign and linger under the vanilla scented cloud.

Nearby, we notice that visitors have created a queue to try what is possibly the most fascinating part of SCOOP - an experience that invites visitors to witness their own subconscious reaction to eating ice cream. “We’ve worked with Ben & Jerry’s to create the Euphoric Eating installation that visualises what happens in your head as you eat some of their light dessert,” explains Bompas when asked about the experience.

Those taking part in the Euphoric Eating installation strap on a thin headset and are given a small scoop of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Visitors watch, fascinated, as a projector shows the way their brainwaves dance and spike after they’ve tasted the ice cream, and then settle into a straight line when the sweet taste leaves their tongue. As Bompas continues, “It is pretty radical how much innovation there is still to be made in the realm of ice cream.”

Photo: Bompas & Parr

But those at SCOOP should know that the ice cream innovation doesn’t end there. With a final flourish, guests are given a cone of Bompas & Parr’s very own creation; a futuristic glow-in-the-dark vanilla ice cream. We head into the final SCOOP installation, a luminescent cave, with our tasty treats. It’s an exciting look ahead into what we can expect from the future of ice cream – especially if Bompas & Parr are involved.

As we finish our glowing ice creams and step through the exit, having done a loop and returned to Conehenge, it almost feels like stepping back into the real world. We have left the Wonderful Ice Cream World behind, but the things we’ve discovered about the world and history of ice cream throughout our SCOOP journey still taste sweet on the tongue.

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