‘Have sex, have fun!’ runs the motto of ‘love hotel’ Spacy in Yokohama. It can’t be that simple, can it? Beguilingly straightforward, curiously frank, this advice epitomises the playful Japanese approach to sexuality on display at Glasgow’s Lighthouse.
Traditional Japanese homes, poky and packed with extended family, offer little privacy. Conveniently situated near expressway interchanges and railway stations, love hotels such as Spacy were established to provide lovers with a place to indulge their sexual imaginations. Discreet, automated receptions lead to a deliciously diverse range of themed rooms, rentable overnight, or by the hour.
Unusually for an exhibition in the West, Commodity, Firmness and Delight focuses on an aspect of Japanese culture that is in decline. In recent times, the spirit of play and reinvention that has fuelled these hotels has been curbed by regulatory pressures. New entertainment business laws have forced those outside of defined areas to rein in their
excesses or face a stifling regime of hygiene checks and supervision. Further still, the trend towards Western-style, non-communal living is reducing the need for such spaces.
The exhibition, designed and curated by Mark Daniels and Rashida Davison, uses multimedia to maximise the limited space available. Photographs by Bridget Smith, a sound collage by Calum Stirling and the chattering from Japanese cult TV programme Vermillion Pleasure Night go some way to making up for the disappointment of being denied complete hotel room reconstructions.
The second room takes a good shot at recreating the experience, where visitors are invited, by bold wall-mounted type, to imagine a couple ‘squabbling, getting drunk and making listless love in the shower room’. The lurid pink colour-scheme here extends to a ‘typical’ PVC circular mattress with a refreshing lack of ‘DO NOT SIT ON THE EXHIBIT’ sign. Not that I did anything more indecorous than lay back and watch a girl commandeer the video screen to try her hand at Konami’s ParaParaParadise, a Dance Dance Revolution variant, success at which requires mastery of a curious kind of multiple control pad hand-jive.
The best indication of the actual content of hotel rooms comes from the iMac touch-screen application Satellite of Love, which showcases 20 rooms from hotels across Japan. Kitsch or opulent, futuristic or cavern-like, the hotels cater to every taste, but baths big enough for two are a must, and a curious number feature hobby horses.
The odd S&M chamber aside, few of the rooms are overtly sexual, but I must confess I found what I was looking for (probably prompted by a memory of some late-night Channel 5 documentary) in Room 801 of the Angelo Baiser. Here, you and your partner can experience the Sexy Cradle, a fearsome-looking contraption consisting of facing seats that slide in and out, operated by a set of buttons whose functions remain tantalisingly out of range of the iMac’s zoom facility.
Perhaps the most memorable image is of La Mia, Kanagawa, where the bed in nautical-themed room 401 sees guests enveloped in the arms of Little Sailor. His eyes are averted to the ceiling, underlining the message that for all the exuberance displayed in these lovemaking temples, sex in Japan remains a private affair. Unless, that is, there’s a motorised mirror up there.
Commodity, Firmness & Delight runs until 25 August at The Lighthouse, 11 Mitchell Lane, Glasgow G1 or on-line at http://www.north.org.uk/japan