A Wordless Play Space at the Sexsibility Festival (2023)

It’s the last night of a six-day conscious sexuality festival in the Swedish woods. Five-hundred people are preparing to say goodbye to each other after growing intimate together as they day-by-day sing in the morning meetings. Physically and emotionally. Every morning a mysterious creature in sexy lingerie half hidden behind a glowing red umbrella has been taunting the audience. “You know what it’s coming.”, he whispers over the microphone seductively, “It’s the secret magical carnivalesque bazaar. The party of a lifetime!” It’s a great party for sure. I’ve been here many times before. People dress up to the teeth, sparkly, unapologetically, and mix everything: spanking, dancing, orgasming. They simply go bananas for one night. But that’s not how I work. It’s not sexy to me. Don’t get me wrong. I love the hedonistic techno underground scene. It was what first pulled me to Berlin more than twenty years ago. But it’s not where I discovered the intimacy of sadomasochism or the rituals of esoteric eroticism. So I beg them, can I please organise an alternative? It’s for selfish reasons because if I don’t, I know I’ll spend my night in the sauna and maybe have golden milk at the cafe before going to bed underneath the thumping dance floor.

I know I’m not alone; there are others like me; we might not be the most sparkly beings. Instead, we grace carefully, often with our eyes dreamingly gazing into the forest beyond the misty fields. There is the white-hair qigong lady; I’m secretly in love with her. Every morning she hosts a morning practice, seven to eight, when most people stayed in the playroom or cafe until way after midnight. When people complain that qigong makes them tired, she patiently replies, “No, it makes you realise how tired you are.” There is also the tall, graceful tea ceremony man and the gong-lady, who both have an intimate friendship with death. So we gather our forces and prepare a silent resistance. We have actually done this together before, the wordless play space, so we know where we are going. We also know the challenge; people will be pumped up to eleven, expectations through the roof with techno beats artificially keeping their hearts running, but underneath it all, we are all dead tired. And we want them to stop, be silent and offer nothing. Metaphorically speaking, starting at zero instead of providing a rollercoaster blasting them into space because that’s what a great party does, right? It’s an awesome challenge. What do we need?

A clear invitation in the festival program.

WORDLESS PLAY SPACE

The intimacy of tea, silent violence and slowing down.

From zero to everything.

Written rules outside the room.

Everything starts in meditation.

Never be the loudest person in the room.

Eye contact before hand contact.

Hand contact before body contact.

Every word is a safeword.

And an entrance ritual to slow people down, so I place three chairs on two mattresses in front of a little alter. Upon entering, one is instructed to sit down and follow a few simple qigong movements before being allowed into the space. There will be a queue outside the door doing this, but that gives people time to read the rules and make a commitment to join. I think about the entrance as submitting to the play space because there is a clear unspoken power hierarchy. It’s in service of the participants but requires something from them in return. And it’s not negotiable, which I think is a nice contrast to a festival that encourages radical self-expression. If you want to play in our space, follow our rules. And hopefully, you trust us enough that doing this will make your experience more special than just being free to do whatever you want.

The room must also be otherworldly, as a contrast to the “real” party. So we borrow a hundred white bedsheets from the laundry, hang them over a web of red ropes filling the room and light them from the side. The effect is a two-hundred-square-meter maze of white fabrics with little islands of mattresses. This is not dark and dangerous, nor shady or hidden. It’s rather angelic in contrast to the silent violence and screaming vulnerability. Two more people and a cat join the preparations along the way, curious about what we are creating. We also set up the tea ceremony as a place to be held in meditation, as something concrete to do in this space of mostly being. Finally, there is sound. Lovely, droney, repetitive sound; two big gongs, an app on my phone with samples of thunder, waves and wind, and some recording of William Basinski. Everything is made to slow people down. Do less, feel more.

So it starts. The first people who enter are rather fast in their playing, but we are probably also rather fast in our holding of the space. But soon, things slow down. I think the cat helps. It’s like moving in peanut butter and or believing that the room will enthral us with its hypnotic spell. It’s so silent, even if people scream or moan. I have to hush people who whisper. I think it’s mostly people who came because they want to “check out the cool space” and comment on what’s happening rather than participate. I tell them that social interaction works better in the cafe. And some people just don’t have the skills yet to be in a wordless play space. They need to ask their partner if they should take the mattress on the left or the right instead of simply being pulled by existence to either one and trust that their partner will follow along if they perhaps consent and think this is a good idea. After an hour, it’s self-regulating. New people who enter look confused by the contrast but quickly settle in. Someone is singing on the microphone a witchy lullaby; others are dancing; many people make love, and others suffer; it’s a silent orchestration of beauty.

I’m kind of amazed that a handful of people created this in about one and a half hours of work with some ropes and bedclothes. It’s like playing pretend in kindergarten; it’s an illusion we all agree to believe in. But I also know there will be yoga in the room in the morning, so we must tear it down and destroy the illusion before going to bed. So after three hours, I begin to walk around and slowly pull the bedclothes to the ground. The room opens from a maze of secrets to one shared unapologetic orgy. It’s like something is revealed. I change the music to a melancholic tango. Untying the web of ropes, one by one. People remain wordless but begin to dance—one last dance in a world that’s ending. This is the end, the only end, my friend, I think to myself. I feel proud and happy that this more humble experience can and is allowed to exist in parallel to the loud party of a lifetime. In hindsight, I heard that some people were shocked by the intense play and intimate sex; somehow, they thought that wordless play space equals sex-less solo meditation. I’m sorry to disappoint you.

Thank you to Joy, Iris, Ingela, Petra, Sophia and the cat for co-creating this space.