PSFK chats with experts from the Museum of Sex about how cultural institutions are seeking new ways to engage with the public.
Museums of all shapes and sizes are trying to find ways to appeal to city-dwellers with the goal of creating a stand-out experience. As we reported last month, the Museum of Sex (MoSex) has taken the bold initiative of opening up a bar-lounge named PLAY. MoSex have brought onboard a variety of top-tier specialists to scale up what was initially an idea for an exhibit. PSFK had the opportunity to chat with the people behind PLAY to get a sense of how the cultural institution has extended its vision and perspective on sexuality and sensuality beyond the museum context to breakdown the barriers between private and public. Perhaps most telling is expert Emilie Baltz’s response in explaining the curation strategy behind PLAY:
The goal of the curatorial program in PLAY is to continue to engage artists who push the boundaries of their craft by allowing them, literally, to “play” in this experimental medium. The result of this collection will be a multi-sensory catalogue of consumable experiences which hope to help quantify this elusive emotion we call desire.
What’s the story behind PLAY? How will the lounge enhance your visitors’ museum experience?
Dan Gluck (Director/Founder of MoSex): I had always intended to include food and beverage as part of the museum experience. It took us 8 years to get resources together to initiate the prototype with OralFix in the Lower Level. But the unique thing here is extending a museum’s mission directly into food and beverage – something that would be exciting for other museums to follow. When we started Oralfix years ago it was originally for an aphrodisiac concept. It evolved into a meth lab concept focused on physiological experiences (hence the metaphor of a “drug den”). Whilst building PLAY, I no longer wished to limit ourselves to physiological and started seeking out ways to expand into a more artistic experience. While the current pieces have a physical and conceptual focus, we will expand into the mythology, history and physiology of sensuality, sexuality and food culture.
Brendan Spiro (Project Lead): Being passive in a great experience gives you the liberty to be engaged. This occurs more dynamically in museums and especially in drinking dens. However, at this Museum, you are choosing an experience that is bursting with interactivity and playfulness. The space works to fill the visitors’ experience with the same ideas that exist in the Museum of Sex – arousal, provocation filled with sensual and sexual content. This is the place to take in the experience after you have allowed yourself to become free.
What was the central thought to your curation strategy?
Emilie Baltz (Curator): PLAY’s curated artist-cocktail offering is the result of 3 years of research into the history, mythology and biology of aphrodisiac ingredients. What began as “Oral Fix”, a prototype cafe in the basement of the Museum, originally presented drinks that were inspired by a database created in-house of over 250 ingredients from aphrodisiac history. Spices, fruits and precious metals were presented in concoctions that recreated the mythology of cultures gone past. PLAY is an evolution of this foundation, proposing cocktails that are more than historical anecdotes, but actually participatory, performative pieces of art.The act of dining and drinking is naturally a typology of performance art in that it presents a situation that involves the four basic elements of space, time, the performer’s body and a relationship between audience and performer. These situations can be scripted or unscripted, live or mediated by a type of media, and occur in a variety of settings.
Ultimately, it is the actions of the individual or group that create the “performance”. The Exhibited Cocktails are curated with this performative nature in mind. Pareidoilia, the cocktail developed in collaboration with artist Bart Hess, offers a foreign, provocative texture that is licked off of a ribbed, skin-like plate. The taste of the cocktail is milky and citrusy which, when licked off the plate, drips viscously from the mouth of the consumer. While the tongue is stimulated in both physical texture and flavor, the visual nature of this liquid immediately implies an intimate secretion. In addition, by asking guests to lick, instead of drink the cocktail, the body language of the user implicitly contributes to the reading of the experience. Guest becomes performer as civilized drinker is transformed into a primitive licker, transgressing social codes through the use of intimate gestures. These cocktails thus offer not merely a full body experience, but a full performative act by allowing guests to play the role of both performer and audience.
In your interview with Papermag, you mentioned that the beverage program is tactful. What are some of the understated aspects of the cocktails that a first-time visitor might not notice?
Jim Kearns (Beverage Director): We focused on sensuality through the lens of eating and drinking, as opposed to overt sexuality. There are articulate references to sensory experience throughout the space, and the drink list is a reiteration of that. The drinks reference culinary flavor profiles and experiences (Loose Women and Pickpockets, Drive-In Saturday), as well as a range of flavors not commonly associated with cocktails (In a Pickle?, Claire Quilty). The flavor profiles are bold and striking, but the references to sex and sensuality are subtle, imbuing the drinks menu with a sensibility evoking a range of sensory experiences.
We loved your TED talk. You’ve built a reputation for yourself for being experimental. How is PLAY supporting your passion for research and discovery?
Ben Roche (Chef): Well, for me personally it will be a departure from working mostly in fine dining restaurants. However, the same playful nature and constant evolution of food ideas that I try to follow when developing a menu will happen here too. There always needs to be a starting point, a solid structure, before there can be a departure from the norm. Now that we are open and the machine is running smoothly… now we can get weird!
Tell us about how your responsibilities at PLAY are enabling you to further your vision in the culinary field.
Dalia Jurgensen (Dalia Jurgensen): I love coming up with food that is approachable for our day business, which is a mix of creative urban professionals who love the idea of a proper cafe with a twist, that includes unexpected little curve balls. For example, covering the olive oil cake with matcha, or sneaking black pepper into a shortbread cookie. I’ve been given not just a license, but an instruction to “play” with my food, and to make things you might not find anywhere else, but that are still recognizable to our customers.
Tell us about your approach to designing the space?
Eric Mailaender (Design Architect): We used the metaphor of a striptease early on, spatially from front to back. Its starts out quite sober and respectful with the historic storefront we did and the mostly traditional and spare cafe with just some hints. Upon passing through the “interior storefront” (that is a mirror of the building storefront) things start to heat up. Collisions of style and period happen, colors start to pierce, materials have strong contrasts and textures, spatial experiences are created that bring bodies close, both people you’re with and strangers. Ultimately at the end- the bar area, the intensity becomes higher, hinting at hallucinatory experience.