By Freya Parr
Suffice to say, entry into PICA’s newest installation, Ecosexual Bathhouse, is not for the faint-hearted. Created by Perth-based artist collective Pony Express, the experience is intense, and only for the sexually experimental and open-minded.
Inspired by the eco-sex manifesto by Annie Sprinkle and Dr Elizabeth Stephens (available to read here), the artists’ aim is to make the political personal. We are constantly being asked to care for our environment in a detached and clinical way. Ecosexual Bathhouse creates a deeply intimate experience, helping make our relationship with nature personal, suggesting that if we learn to love the Earth, maybe we can save it.
Eco-eroticism is a new concept to me, and I felt out of my comfort zone for the entire duration of the experience. However, it was a very well created space, and I have never seen anything quite like it. We were each given an ecosexual prop on entry, along with a brief set of rules on respecting the plants within the bathhouse. Handed a watering can attached to an S&M-style studded belt, I entered. We were also given tiny condoms, which I am still not entirely sure what we were supposed to do with. I only assume they were environmentally friendly and biodegradable. Made up of several rooms, there is plenty to see. However, unless you are very open-minded and fully understand the concept of ecosexuality, it isn’t a particularly engaging experience. It is all too easy to be merely a spectator and leave after five minutes, leaving the rest of the group to caress plants in a bizarrely sexual manner.
One room is heated like a sauna, and feels damp like a swamp. A scantily-clad women holds stick insects for guests to also interact with. Performers coated in mud roll around in the dirt. The walls are bedecked with images of phalluses covered in moss and women wearing grass-coated underwear. There is a woman being massaged with sand and stones. It is an overwhelming attack on the senses, with the smell of earth thick in the air. What surprised me was how sexually charged the whole affair was, which, for the prude within me, did not sit all too well. However, the longer people stayed within the space, the more comfortable they seemed to feel. There are even beds to lie in alongside strangers, so you could spend hours in there.
Ultimately, Ecosexual Bathhouse is not for everyone, and those who may be perturbed by watching people caress plant leaves may not enjoy it. However, it was eye-opening in more ways than one, and with time you can adapt to your surroundings. The only element that prevented people from being fully engaged was that it was more of a spectacle rather than an immersive and involved space. But if you’re feeling open-minded and up for a bit of weirdness, it is a fantastic concept and a highly unusual experience.
Ecosexual Bathhouse is appearing at the Fringe until 28th January.