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Image courtesy Ai Hasegawa and Joseph Popper

Japanese love hotels go out of their way to satisfy the most outlandish fetish: some rooms offer the feeling of being inside a subway carriage, a class room, or a Hello Kitty SM room, others locks you into an alien abduction nightmare (/dream).

Ai Hasegawa, second year student in Design Interactions at the Royal College of Art in London, proposes to close loving couples into an even more extraordinary fantasy.

Her Extreme Environment Love Hotel simulates impossible places to go such as the Earth of three hundred million years ago (during the Carboniferous period), or the surface of Jupiter by manipulating invisible but ever-present environmental factors, for example atmospheric conditions and gravity.

Our bodies would survive if we were propelled back to the Carboniferous period but they would need to adapt if we'd stay over long periods of time. It is estimated that during that time, the peak oxygen content of the atmosphere was as high as 35%, compared to 21% today. This oxygen level resulted in insect and amphibian gigantism--creatures whose size is constrained by respiratory systems that are limited in their ability to diffuse oxygen. For example, the ancestor of the dragonfly, the Meganeura, grew up to seventy-five centimeters due to the huge concentration of oxygen in the air.

Life on Jupiter doesn't sound very pleasant for us either. The atmospheric environment of the largest planet within the Solar System is one of strong gravity, high pressure, strong winds, and extremely cold temperatures.

How might our bodies change, struggle or even adapt with varying conditions around us?

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Portable Carboniferous room. Image credit: Anthony Dunne

The first of Ai Hasegawa's Extreme Environment Love Hotel room, the carboniferous one, is currently on view at the work in progress show of the Royal College of Art. The prototypes show how couples would have to carry a suitcase containing higher levels of oxygen that recreate the atmosphere of the Carboniferous period, they would also be surrounded by plants similar to the ones that proliferated in the warm and humid climate: large trees covered with bark and huge ferns growing in swamps.

The designer's work is of course a bit eccentric but it also propose to reflect on how making love inside an Extreme Environments Love Hotel room might give rise to new evolutions and mutations of the human body and sex and give it a brand new role away from our biologically-programmed needs and inclinations.

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Breathing mask for the portable Carboniferous room. Image credit: Anthony Dunne

Why did you decide to explore new frontiers in Love Hotels?

Love hotel is a utopia to serve the people's dream and fantasy.

We are able to go to space or have a hyper gravity experience at NASA , but that is only for chosen people, the rich or some elites.

A love hotel, however, is opened to all adults. I could have worked on a 'Fun fair/ amusement park' type of attraction, but these gives us only short time experiences that don't last more than 5 minutes.

I wanted to have an experience longer than a funfair ride, an experience that would last until our body could feel slight changes and adapt to them. You can stay at the hotel for one hour, for a week or a year. Also sex is a hard form of exercise, and a "love" hotel is the perfect place to challenge the limit of our body in extreme environmental conditions.

Also from critical point of view, Love hotel is designed for sexual urge. It is a place for desire and pleasure, probably not for love nor reproduction.

I feel sex isn't motivated solely by life instinct, by the need to reproduce and make our species survive. Sexual urge can make us take some life-risking actions such as HIV infection.

I wonder if our DNA might need to be modified in order to redesign the strategy of reproduction... In other words, why not have some evolutions?

To trigger evolutions, we might want to use a technology to modify our DNA, of course. But before that, we need to study our body potentials with basic elements, invisible factors, such as atmosphere, gravity, temperature, electromagnetic waves, etc. We need new environments, new frontiers.

I chose places where 'we are not able to go to' for a romantic or melancholic reason. We don't have any strong reason to go to Jupiter. Moreover, we are able to have a time-trip to the future (possible in theory, but it's only a one-way trip), but not to the past (the theory hasn't been proved yet, i think). The love hotel would be the ideal place to serve such dreams and fantasies.

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Image courtesy Ai Hasegawa and Joseph Popper

What does their body risk if the lovers keeps the breathing mask for a long time?

There is no risk. If healthy people breath 100% oxygen for long time, they would have lungs problem, but this Carboniferous portable room portable supplies only 35% oxygen under usual atmospheric pressure. A real chamber, thus not the "portable" version will be higher atmosphere, but still it will be fine. This real chamber will be similar to Hyperbaric medicine. It would probably be slightly easier to breathe and recovering energy would be faster than usual in this room.

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The 20G centrifuge at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California

You're also working on a Jupiter room. What will it be like? And feel like?

I hope it will be like a NASA's 20-G Centrifuge. But cheaper version would make it look more like a Rotor in fun fair. A wall become a floor by centrifugal force. Bed is on the wall.

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3D sketch of the Jupiter room. Image courtesy Ai Hasegawa

Customer might need to wear a harness to support the weight, they might also need to wear a bone protector, just in case. You have to be careful with the position you chose. If you want to adopt a 'woman on top' position, then your body might be too heavy to climb up. Besides, the man's hipbone might break under the weight. But if you stay for a week or a month, maybe after a while your body will adapt and become more masculine.

In a Hotel room, you also need to have a toilet and a shower. The water in the Jupiter room would fall 2.35 times faster than usual. One day lasts only 9 hours and 55 min in this room.

If you want, you might probably be able to make a baby under the hyper gravity...

Thanks Ai!

Check out The Extreme Environment Love Hotel: Carboniferous Room at the Student Work-in-Progress Show, Royal College of Art, London. The exhibition end on Monday afternoon.

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Illustration Matt Saunders. Image courtesy Zoe Papadopoulou

So far, explaining children how babies were made involved quite often storks, cabbages, bees and other fantasies. Science, however, has added new modes of reproductions to the discourse. From in vitro fertilization in the 1970s to today's research into artificial gametes from stem cells or somatic cells that would allow sperm and eggs to be created from anyone's cells, regardless of age, gender or sexuality. At the time, New Scientist described the research as 'male eggs' and 'female sperm'.

How will the stories about human reproductions evolve as our methods of reproduction become increasingly more diversified?

Designer Zoe Papadopoulou collaborated with Dr Anna Smajdor, an expert in the ethical aspects of science, on a multidisciplinary project that investigates how scientific and technological developments influence historical stories and narratives, explaining 'where we come from'. By exploring new reproductive scenarios, this project aims to create the space for a broader discussion on artificial reproductive technologies (ART) that can engage people in the possibilities these advances present.

The work, called Reproductive Futures, is still very much in progress but the first results of the project are on view right now at the Science Gallery in Dublin as part of an exhibition that considers the future of our species. The final outcomes of the project will be a series of books accompanied by objects featured in the narratives.

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Illustration Matt Saunders. Image courtesy Zoe Papadopoulou

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Image courtesy Zoe Papadopoulou

Hello Zoe! Sorry to ask you something so basic but is "artificial reproductive technologies" a different way to say "assisted reproductive technology"? Or are they two different things?

The two terms refer to the same thing - often abbreviated to 'ART'. They incorporate currently available treatments such as IVF, and treatments in development, as well as future possibilities such as artificial gametes.

Apart from gametes which ART does Reproductive Futures take into account?

There are also a number of different scientific techniques that are being pursued. One involves the creation of gametes from embryonic stem cells; other scientists are working on making sperm from bone marrow stem cells. Another method is 'haploidisation' where a normal body cell is stimulated to become a gamete by splitting and ejecting half of its chromosomes. Work is also underway on induced pluripotential stem cells, where normal body cells are treated with chemicals that stimulate them to behave as though they were embryonic stem cells. It's not certain which if any of these is likely to succeed first, or which would be safer. One of the interesting ethical questions is about how we establish whether it's safe or not, without actually allowing it to happen in a human being. Even if it works in animals we can't be 100% sure - it will be experimental. This is what happened with the first IVF baby, scientists really had no idea what the long term implications would be, so this was very much an experimental procedure.

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Image courtesy Zoe Papadopoulou

I read a couple of articles about the use of artificial gametes in reproduction that the text on your project page refers to. They date back to 2008 and most of their authors had their doubts about the validity and safety of the technology. Is it still the case? How far away are the "female sperm" and "male eggs" from reality?

Some scientists are very optimistic about how soon this will work. Others are more cautious. When I started researching this about 7 years ago, some scientists were claiming artificial gametes would be available in 5 years. Clearly that hasn't happened! But often in science, breakthroughs can be unexpected, so I don't think it's a question of being able to put an exact timescale on it. What is clear is that scientists in many areas are working on getting cells to change their function. Creating cells that will function as gametes is just one part of this, so it's not totally cut off from other aspects of research. The ultimate goal is to be able to understand and control all these processes so that any human cell can be reprogrammed to fulfil whatever function we want it to...

The project Reproductive Futures explores "new reproductive scenarios". Could you take us through some of the scenarios you've worked on (i don't know how many you developed, if talking about all of them is too time-consuming, you could pick just one or 2 of them)?

We are currently showing the work in progress at the Human+ exhibition at the Science Gallery in Dublin, previewing four stories of hypothesized reproductive futures: from genetics ('multiple biological mothers' - where more than two people's DNA is part of fertilization), through to more "practical" near-future scenarios like the possibility of full term gestation in artificial wombs.

We really should mention that 'Reproductive Futures' is still in its development phase. We are delighted to have just been awarded a Wellcome Trust Arts Award grant which means the next couple of months will be focus on exploring all the possible opportunities that will arise from ART.

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Image courtesy Zoe Papadopoulou

Some ART would bring part of the reproduction into the hands of scientists. There could even be no sexual intercourse involved and therefore, i suspect less taboo or embarrassment in explaining how a baby was born. So does it mean that they will generate narratives that could be completely free from the cabbage and cork-type of "mythology"? Would parents explaining to their kids where they come from be more open about the scientific process than they would be about one that take place in a bed?

That is very possibly right, but perhaps that's all the more reason why we might need to re-imagine those "mythologies". Deliberately, the tales you refer to that were once told to children bore no resemblance to how or why conception happened. This ambiguity was embedded by the use of fantasy, and they referred to a world very different to that of children, or of their everyday lives. Fantasy in and of itself has a role to play in this project, yet as developments in science makes the descriptions of 'how' and 'where' babies come from more complicated, there must be truth and integrity in what we narrate. This project needs to be neither too factual and scientific, nor based on expedient story-telling. It must instead find a way of making understanding both accessible and enjoyable to children and adults.

Thanks Zoe and Anna!

All images courtesy Zoe Papadopoulou.

Check out Reproductive Futures (as well as the Center for PostNatural History) at HUMAN+, an exhibition on view through June 24, 2011 at the Science Gallery in Dublin.

Previous works by Zoe Papadopoulou: The Cloud Project and Knitted Shields.

Leigh Ledare's photo portray of his relationship with his mother, currently on show at Guido Costa Projects in Turin, is everything a PC family album should not be.

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Leigh Ledare, Mother As Baby Jane, 2004

Ledare's mother, Tina Peterson used to be a delicate and precocious ballerina performing with the New York City Ballet. As years went by she became a model. Then a porn actress. She would also describe herself in personal ads as an "exotic dancer and former ballerina seeks wealthy husband, not somone else's". Today she's a sixty something woman, still glamorous, still spectacularly charismatic. In an old letter exhibited in the gallery, Tina complains that the model is at the photographer's "mercy".

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Leigh Ledare, Untitled (Entire Roll). See more details

The way she performs in front of her son's camera proves how much she has since found a way to be in control of the images. Her son shoots, she fingers herself. Ledare takes picture after picture of his muse as she is giving head, having sex with her young boyfriend, spreading her legs. In Mom After the Accident, she stands on two chairs, wearing nothing but a neck brace. It's far too intimate even for our time of brash reality-shows and online exhibitionism. It's also irresistible. Tina is so alluring, even with heavier thighs and a grim black wig. Most of all, we want to know how far these two are ready to go.

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Exhibition view

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Leigh Ledare, Mother and Catch 22, 2002

Journalists and art critics have repeated over and over again the words "Oedipus Complex." Meanwhile, Tina's career has been given a new breath and Ledare has found fame. Somehow, i wonder how his other works, in particular Russian Biker Gang and Personal Commissions, will ever manage to emerge from Tina's shadow.

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Leigh Ledare, Mom with Mask, 2001

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Leigh Ledare, Untitled, 2000

The gallery is also showing two short movies. One of them, The Gift, is an edition of an amateur softcore fetish spanking movie that Tina shot with two friends. The artist explains: The story was so flawed that the tapes sat for 2 years without being able to be made into anything. One day a package arrived with the mail at my door. Inside were two tapes and a small note from my mother telling me they were a gift and now it was my responsibility to make something out of them. I edited out the failed story the initial artists had attempted to film and left my mother playing to the direction of these two men, leaving what can be seen as a real armature for the missing narrative.

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Leigh Ledare, The Gift, 2008

The exhibition Le Tit, by Leigh Ledare, is open until September 15, 2010 at the gallery Guido Costa Projects in Turin.

Who would have thought i'd end up blogging about a splatter movie on wmmna? I'm not talking about any horror flick, i'm talking "gay-porn zombie film", a genre which i assume is under-represented in contemporary art. Written and directed by Bruce LaBruce and starring porn actor François Sagat, LA Zombie is on view at the Peres Projects gallery in Berlin, along with a dozen new works on canvas.

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Bruce LaBruce, LA Zombie 10, 2010. Painting - Silkscreen on Canvas

It was a bit of a hard core spectacle for someone like me who has no interest nor experience in the genre(s). I'm still wondering how i'll manage to convey the happiness and sense of beauty that the film gave me. There's something respectable about a porn movie that you watch inside a renowned art gallery. You might be shocked but you're never ashamed. Bruce Labruce's other queer cinema horror film Otto; or Up With Dead People debuted at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, the artist has contributed to magazines such as Vice, Index, and BlackBook, he also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Even his main actor, a muscular porn star recognizable by a tattoo designed to give the illusion of a hairy scalp has gained some gravitas when he was asked by fashion designer Bernhard Willhelm to model the 2007 Spring Summer collection. The film itself was inspired by The Gleaners and I by experimental French film maker Agnès Varda.

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Outside view of the gallery

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View of the exhibition space (image Peres Projects)

I doubt LaBruce bothers much about making you and me and other art lovers comfortable. Just like Murakami delights in selling his art in both prestigious art galleries and shops merchandising fugly brown monogram bags, LaBruce doesn't seem too eager to drawing a line between art and porn. He told Salon: "All of my work has been about that line. You can situate yourself on either side of the line without really altering the work itself. I could take a picture for Honcho magazine, but can take the same image and put it in a frame in an art gallery, and it becomes art. For me that speaks to the arbitrary nature of those labels." A soft-core version of L.A. Zombie will tour film festivals this year. You can expect to find the hard-core DVD gracing the shelves of your favourite sex shop in the spring.

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Bruce LaBruce, LA ZOMBIE 05, 2010. Painting - Silkscreen on Canvas

LA Zombie was shot in Los Angeles. Guerrilla-style. With almost no budget. The main protagonist rises from the sea, with as much clout and allure as Ursula Andress herself in that famous Bond scene. He's a zombie or maybe he's just a bit deranged and fancies himself as an undead creature. He sports canine teeth and is dressed like a homeless. Good looking young guys get killed or die in accidents. He finds them, gives them the fuck of life right into their wound, they open their eyes. They have become zombie too and lead the life of tramps around LA. People don't seem to even notice their presence.

The trailer:

Bruce Labruce LA Zombie: The Movie That Would Not Die runs at Peres Projects in Berlin until April 24, 2010.

A very moving exhibition i saw yesterday morning in Amsterdam:

Every quarter of an hour Ton Grootes, the owner of Sex Cinema Venus in the Red Light District in Amsterdam, changes the Super 8 rushes containing porn films from the Seventies. He doesn't like nowadays's porn. Ladies have inflatable breasts and there's little scenario, actors just arrive on screen and almost immediately, as Grootes says, "Bang!"

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Laatste Loodjes, 2009 (c) Jan-Dirk van der Burg

Sex Cinema Venus is well past its glory era. Only a handful of loyal customers come nowadays. People pass by, almost always look at the pictures outside the cinema but they don't come in. Still, Grootes opens the cinema every day. He hates to stay home doing nothing.

Sex Cinema Venus seems to be stuck in Super8 time. It is the oldest sex cinema in the Red Light District. Sadly, it will soon disappear as a result of Amsterdam's regeneration plans. It is expected that, soon, the city council of Amsterdam will issue a compulsory purchase note to the sex cinema and will stimulate high-end commercial developments in its place.

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Venus, 2009 (c) Jan-Dirk van der Burg

If you don't dare to enter the sex cinema and meet its owner and reels, Jan-Dirk van der Burg can help. The young photographer interviewed the cinema owner and documented his work in a series of photos and a slideshow with extracts of the glorious 70s porn movies. You can see them (along with a few vintage posters which i photographed but canceled afterward by mistake from the memory card) at Foam, the Museum of Photography in Amsterdam exhibits

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V1, 2009 (c) Jan-Dirk van der Burg

Sex Cinema Venus is on view at Foam in Amsterdam until December 16, 2009.

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