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CULTURE

Museum of Sex: Splendor in the Grass

From a pheromone cloud chamber to kaleidoscopic self-gazing, a campground-themed interactive installation by Studio Droog to stimulate all five senses

by Nara Shin
on 25 June 2015

For the past year, the NYC's Museum of Sex hosted "Funland," an erotic fairground imagined by design duo Bompas & Parr which featured, among other things, a penis derby racing game and bouncy boob castle (now part of the museum's permanent collection). This year, Amsterdam-based studio (and major force in design) Droog changes the scenery with an intimate, playful campground. Within, visitors are invited to explore their bodies and surroundings using all five senses. "Splendor in the Grass," a result of the museum's annual Kinesthesia artist commission series, features different tents that drive the heart rate up and down.

"One of the things that attracted us about the [campground] idea is that so often, especially being in New York City, everyone is very cut off from the natural world," Director of Exhibitions at the Museum of Sex Mark Snyder tells CH. "We're behind our computers, our phones, on sidewalks, in air conditioning, etc. So we wanted to find something to break people out of that—get people to explore themselves, their bodies, their sexuality in a different way. And I think the campground is that literal and metaphorical way that we get to do it."

"There's a 'holiday effect'—you go on a holiday and come back to your room and think, 'Gee the ceiling's low.' You sometimes need a break, to look anew," Edith Gruson of Droog tells CH during our tour. "When you're camping and you make coffee, you smell the coffee like you're smelling it for the first time. When you smell coffee here, it's always in the context of a bar, a club, your home, your kitchen, your worries. You [suppress] the senses because of these settings. So this [exhibition] is a playful way of being aware how important the senses are within the notion of sexuality."

Inside the first tent, "Autoerotic Kinesthesia," is a concealed kaleidoscope of mirrors that will prompt a fury of selfies. Meant to be a private experience, this tent invites those who enter to survey their body from every angle—extra fun for those wearing skirts, as there's a mirror on the bottom. Snyder explains, "Self-exploration is the place where most of us start learning about ourselves—what we like, what feels good about our sexuality." It's a primer to get you comfortable with your own body through self-discovery before exploring what's out there. All of this happens with the sound of rain and gently rolling thunder and birds cawing in the background, of course.

The rest of the journey traverses other small-sized tents like "Grass Girl Arouses," which beckons visitors to lie down and pet a bristly sculpture of a girl (who's whispering sweet, gentle words of seduction) to the "Ice Oven Challenge," which uses heat sensors to take things from cold to hot upon your entrance. The highlight is probably the darkest tent: "Wetten Your Appetite" is a "cloud chamber experience" (that feels more like a Berlin club basement) where smell and touch take over. The tent is filled with aromatic fog and lit only for brief moments by a stroboscope. Groping the walls is highly encouraged here, as body forms—a leg, a face, nipples—molded from soft, black latex surround you. In such a shadowy and steamy space with strangers, let the pheromones run high and see how your body adapts when vision becomes limited, and other senses sharpen.

Eager to play and armed with a sense of humor, Droog has thought out all the details for "Splendor in the Grass" down to the custom-made patterned fabrics—one tent, for example, is covered with aphrodisiacs like avocados, fish and peppers. Overall, it's a safe space to let your guard down and is one of those rare exhibitions where you'll end up learning more about yourself than someone else.

"Splendor in the Grass" opens to the public today, 25 June 2015, at NYC's Museum of Sex and is expected to run for a year—leaving plenty of time to plan your next "camping trip." Another new MoSex exhibition, "Hardcore," is running simultaneously and worth checking out: a selection of explicit archival images and video proves that the desire to sexually break boundaries created by social modesty isn't as modern as we think.

Images courtesy of Becky McNeel

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