What did people get up to in the pleasure gardens of Georgian London? Anna Rank of the international design practice Hassell suggests it wasn’t altogether salubrious in those dark, rose-scented corners obscured by shrubbery and birdsong.
Whatever their earthly delights, 18th-century pleasure gardens were a far cry from the concrete Clerkenwell of today. And as Hassell’s ‘creative producer’, Rank would like to take you back.
Her ‘Sensorium’, on view until Thursday evening, grows from the fabric of Håg’s Clerkenwell showroom. There are bouquets of pastel hydrangea on steps carpeted in mossy green, an Aunt Sally board and a porch swing, where visitors can have a cup of chilled elderflower while bubbles rain down from a machine.
Collaborating with Håg, designer of the Capisco desk chair, Rank has posed porcelain figures amid native grasses and mirror balls like a sort of 3D toile. A carnie serves cotton candy from a barrel under clouds made from pink moss.
The firm’s motivation, she says, was ‘to question the public realm – what makes a space exciting’. So she’s orchestrated a series of ‘fun and completely unexpected spaces, to observe how people interact with their environment’.
Stepping inside a makeshift cavern of black-out cloth kicks the experience up a notch. You can peep through cut-outs with a monocle or kaleidoscope, or strap on a VR headset for an acid-pink trip to an underwater world.
Before you reach for your phone, Rank assaults you one last time, with a blast of cut-grass fragrance from the ‘smelling machine’. ‘How does that transport you?’ she asks.
Far enough not to want to leave.