We recently interviewed Sam Bompas, cofounder of the experimental food duo Bompas and Parr for our latest Hive Mind Magazine, and when he told us, ‘Sex is the new food,’ we thought, ‘We’re onto something’. Not so much the current interest in polyamory—that’s another story—but more that we are undergoing something of a physical revolution.
Whilst Bompas and Parr have made a name for themselves for doing interesting things with food, what they now see is something bigger—a broader appetite for full-on sensory immersion. “We’re all about engaging with people on a physical level,” Bompas told us. “We will still work with food, of course, but there simply is more work to be done looking at our bodies and focusing on all of its pleasure centres,” And sure enough the pair's ‘Fun Land: Pleasures and perils of the erotic fairground’ exhibition in New York last year did just that; it was a cheeky exhibition which featured a bouncy castle in the shape of a cleavage, amongst other titillations.
Twice a year, Cultural Intelligence produces a digital publication in collaboration with our expert panel, The Hive Mind, of which Bompas is a member. Each time we ask our experts about a big societal shift taking place. Now this shift isn’t so much about playful erotica, although it’s a clue. No, what we are documenting, and decided to focus our last issue on, is the shift from prioritising the mind and the visual to focusing on the body and the sensual.
Our poor old bodies have been left in a sensory void as we’ve grown numb to overstimulation. “Even with music, which has always been a source of pleasure, we’ve stopped really listening to it,” another one of our Hive Mind experts, Lizzie Ostrom, told us. Ostrom has made a name for herself on the sensory circuit putting on multisensory events under the moniker Odette Toilette. “With Spotify you can listen to anything you want, and so you end up not really focusing on it at all, nor noticing how the body is responding.”
And therein lies the problem: We’ve turned off our senses, and therefore our bodies, just to survive modern life’s onslaught. But now we see people across cultures realising that something is amiss. There is a desire to get back into our bodies and to connect with our ‘biologicalness’. When we talk with our global offices in Brazil, China, Singapore, USA, UK and India, each reports a surge in new, ‘sociable,’ ways that people are coming together to share their physicality.
In the UK we have seen the explosion of assault course contests such as Tough Mudder, which are about more than fitness and solidarity; they also serve to jumpstart a connection with the body by putting it through extreme pain.
In Singapore Gen Y are taking the more meditative route and coming together at yoga raves such as the annual Soulscape in Sentosa. In the States, singers are switching the body ‘on’ through musical vibrations, group singing in secular choirs was up by almost 10 million in the years 2007 through 2013. And across global party hubs large auditoriums are throbbing to the sounds of EDM (electronic dance music), a cultural phenomenon that taps straight into this raw joy of physicality.
What’s interesting is that we aren’t just seeking out that biologicalness within each other and ourselves; we want that flavour from our brands too. ‘Visceral’ is the word of the moment for many brands, standing for high emotion, intensity and an edge. But it’s so much more than that. The word 'visceral'—defined as ‘Relating to the viscera (abdominal organs) and deep inward feelings rather than to the intellect’—shows us a whole new way to create powerful brand connections. If you’re going to do visceral, use the bodily senses to tap directly into powerful emotions. Bypass the rational and cerebral and go straight for the physical—straight for the gut.
Miriam Rayman, cultural intelligence, Flamingo