- Kurt Hollander’s Joyous Life and the Architecture of Sex
Kurt Hollander is a filmmaker, writer, and photographer from New York City who has spent half his life in Latin America (Mexico and Colombia). His current project combines photography and writing to explore sexual practices and popular culture in Colombia, particularly in relation to the architecture and interiors of love motels, brothels, and erotic videochat studios. Hollander considers these sites to be part of a cultural world of pleasure that combine quasi-artistic and ethnological expression with the promotion of good public health à la Wilhelm Reich. What follows is an interview I conducted with Hollander on September 6, 2019, that sheds light on his quirky new project and what it says about sexuality in the Americas today.
What is the main backstory that leads up to your very interesting work on Colombian love motels? Could you also explain what you mean by “love motels” and how they are similar or different from other establishments in the United States, Japan, or elsewhere?
The first encounter I had with the architecture of sex in the Americas was during a trip to the Dominican Republic, where I stumbled upon a series of giant, fantastic love motels in Santo Domingo. I went back and lived in one of them for four days and took photographs with a medium-format camera of the facades of a dozen or so of these cabañas. These Dominican love motels are huge structures of fantasy architecture. The facades are very playful, mostly imitations of other kinds of architecture like suburban houses, office complexes, or palaces, and one is even a copy of Hollywood’s Universal Studios, with the same logo. These love motels tend to be very colorful, full of lights, and often with playful names like Obsession, Happy City, or the Office. These twenty-first-century pleasure palaces were built mostly in the last ten years, many of them with money from Mainland China. Love motels first began in Asia but are now a global phenomenon, and they are one of the biggest growth industries in Latin America. After World War II [End Page 175] Japan started to create rooms for people who were displaced or had nowhere to live, where they could spend a night or just a few hours to sleep, functional rooms in people’s house, but they grew into formal hotels, and in the late twenty-first century they become these wild, fantastic theme motels that grew out of manga or other strange cultures of Japan that later were exported throughout Asia and then to Latin America.
One of the benefits of love motels is that they are designed preserve your anonymity. They are mostly drive-ins with garages where you park and enter directly into your room without ever stepping outside or into a space with other people. You pay through a window that has an L turn so you never see any of the employees or other clients. That is a very important aspect to all love motels in Latin America, as most of the clients are young lovers or else are cheating on their husbands or wives and don’t want neighbors to see what they are doing. Young people who live with their family cannot bring their partner home with them.
In Latin America, unlike in the United States, most people don’t have their own apartments, and most people live with large families and so it is hard to get away from prying eyes. Love motels are for cheating but also for personal space and pleasure. Some are publicly advertised, but they are discreet for their clients. Anyone could use these motels, with any sexual preference. There are abuses of such privacy—some people bring underage people into the rooms—but generally it’s either lovers, married couples, or cheating spouses who go there just to have fun.
But to put this into perspective, such institutions have existed in the United States and Mexico for a long time. What is different about these? Are they taking on a new size or magnitude in Latin American culture or changing in some way?
They exist in one...