Just when you thought they’d gone quiet, Bompas and Parr have returned with what looks to be their most gloriously gruesome food-related project yet. On Friday 14 March, tattooed and talented celebrity chef Gizzi Erskine will be swallowing a SynMed pill-cam live, aided by Bompas and Parr themselves and a team of scientists. The pill will stream a film live from Gizzi’s gut in what hopes to be one of the most revealing, exciting food experiments the duo have performed so far, the results of which will be used to illustrate a volume of Memoirs of a Stomach – an obscure 1853 diet book told from the perspective of a stomach.“This will be the first time that anyone has been able to enjoy this unique perspective of a celebrated foodist – the view from inside their most sensitive organ – the belly.” Celebrated food architect and stomach-explorer Sam Bompas kindly answered a few questions for us ahead of tomorrow’s live event…
How did you discover the SynMed pill-cam and how exactly does it work?
The pill-camera is a tiny camera that travels along your digestive tract and is used by medics to discover what’s going on inside their patients. It’s like something out of science fiction, the story from Innerspace or Fantastic Voyage made reality. For Journey to the Centre of the Gut we are pushing the limits of taste to travel along Gizzi Erskine’s alimentary canal, streaming the footage to a live audience as we go.
The camera doesn’t pick up sound, so the visuals are being live-scored by Dom James and his Alvine Argonauts playing freeform jazz and peristaltic bass. For the event we are even building a custom percussive instrument that is 10 metres long in honour of the human digestive tract.
Tell us a little about Dr Simon Anderson
Dr Simon Anderson is based at Guys Hospital and is one of the country’s leading gastroentologists. He’s going to be introducing the audience to what they see on screen, a guided tour of what goes on within their own bodies. Dr Anderson will be joined on the panel by two more experts – Dean-Martin Borrow, the pill-cam technician who has operated over 2000 pill-cams in the past and will be able to point out the highlights and relate countless tales of the interior, and Stuart Blyth from Synmed – an expert on the technology – will be able to provide insight on the equipment.
I can imagine that, for you, watching someone’s stomach live was as exciting as the first footage of the moon landing. Is that about correct?
There’s a real sense of wonder at the glories of the human body and the dark mysteries that we all conceal. Food is the most photographed subject on Instagram, but we wanted to take a look beyond regular gastro-photography. This whole project began when I tried to use a GoPro to take a tongue’s eye view of my lunch and almost choked on the camera.
At that point we did some research and discovered medical science had far more sophisticated (and suitable) equipment. It can be used creatively to provoke thoughts about how our entire digestive apparatus works, rather than just the beauty shots of gourmet dishes, artisanal coffees and celebratory cocktails that you see regularly.
How did you manage to light up the inside of the body?
The pill-cam has mounted LEDs which fire each time the camera takes a picture. Ours will be firing at a rate of three frames per-second so you can see it flicker as it goes down.
Tell us a little about Memoirs of a Stomach and how this will feature in a new volume of it?
Memoirs of a Stomach by Sydney Whitting (1853) is entirely written from the point of view of a querulous and at times rebellious stomach. All our projects address this most sensitive organ – the book helps us keep our focus on the belly. After the evening we are going to be republishing this rare tome illustrated with the footage from the Voyage to the Centre of the Gut.
It is really remarkable how much your stomach can take. When we built the Architectural Punch Bowl where we flooded a building with booze, we were careful to send the cognac-based cocktail for shelf-life testing. After all, people were floating across enough alcohol to serve 25,000 people before drinking it themselves. We wanted to make sure there would be no cross contamination so no-one got ill. When the results came back from shelf-life testing a the lab, the cocktail was deemed so acidic, alcoholic and sugary that you could throw a dead dog in it and no-one would get ill – it was impossible bacteria would grow. And people chuck this into their bellies on any given night of the week when they want to party!
As an aside, Coca-Cola measures market share by looking at the percentage of America’s communal stomach comprised by their sparkling beverage.
What have you learnt about the stomach that you didn’t know before?
Your stomach contains brain cells and is now being hailed as the “second brain!” There are over 100 million neurons in your stomach and gut, as many as there are in the head of a cat.
How did you manage to convince Gizzi to do it?
Gizzi Erskine is a trooper and so game that she agreed immediately. I guess Gizzi is just as keen as we are to explore the limits of human taste (in both senses). As she used to be a tattooist and body piercer she’s not squeamish. And as Gizzi’s extremely articulate, she is the ideal candidate to lift the veil of mystery from the stomach.
What was your relationship like with Gizzi before and how has it changed?
I’ll tell you on Saturday after the event! Book your seats here.