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Sȯ-nə is a collaborative project between UK based artists Beth Kettel and Sean Millington. The duo share a common interest in considering and incorporating all aspects of exhibition making as artwork through working across disciplines, and through collaboration.

Sȯ-nə is a project that develops new works and collaborations through research into sauna and bathing cultures across the world. The project encompasses art, design and socio-political issues that are often overlooked in the current political rhetoric. Contrary to the contemporary spa – almost invariably a place of privilege and luxury – the sauna has more inclusive roots: a place for social, political, and cultural exchange. Sȯ-nə is in response to the changing social conditions and shifting boundaries between public and private life; between personal and communal space. The sauna offers a pause in the overwhelming pace of modern western society reconnecting body to mind and in turn, to community. We aim to develop a better understanding of the fundamental principles of sauna culture from around the world.

Through opening up our ideas and our research exploring different cultures, typologies and traditions of saunas, along with their social, political and cultural impact, we’re interested in finding out how this communal site operates in different cultures. And what bringing those different ideas together can offer: as a public facility, as a collaborative opportunity, as contemporary art and as a hybrid of these things.

We’re interested in the locality of saunas, and what varying landscape features add to the sauna experience, such as a cold lake to dip between sauna sessions; a city train passing overhead or sunlight that could yield operative solar energy. We’re interested too in different locations for where Sȯ-nə can exist and what the location’s character might bestow.

For the travel bursary we focused on the bathing culture of Sweden. We expected it to show us a hybrid of influences in which this project is built around, for example cultural references from neighbouring Finland (where the sauna originates), to more English Victorian values of leisure. We began by travelling Stockholm’s archipelago, staying at a Swedish summer home, hoping to gain an insight into the domestic and private usage of saunas and sauna culture in a rural environment. Building studies around the relationship between the surrounding nature and the sauna, in terms of: the human experience with it and the landscapes that alter the experience. We then spent the remainder of the time split between Stockholm, Malmo and Gothenburg with a short trip to Copenhagen. We aimed to research how bathing culture manifests itself in an the urban metropolis and compare the dichotomy between the rural and urban cultural traits of saunaing

The varying types of saunas across sweden certainly did provide an overview we had hoped for from simple wooden hut saunas in the country, to mutated fusions of Hammams, Saunas and Roman baths under one roof in the city. We also had a few surprises thrown in like Sara’s clay sauna in the quarry and wonderful examples of bathing houses striking a harmonious blend of the rural simplicity of sauning within the hectic bustle of the city like at Ribersborgs Kallbadhusl in Malmo and Bastun i frihamnen in Gothenburg.

From our trip, seeing a good portion of Sweden, we already realised we need to go back to explore the rural northern section of the country. We found this out best by saunaing and talking with local enthusiasts and regulars at the saunas we visited, which we found to be an invaluable part of our research. Not only invaluable through offering further saunas to visit but also in historical details, stories and practical details about materials, how to build saunas and how to form a community through saunaing and working with councils and the public. The varying styles change city by city and region by region, which is such an exciting prospect as our research can continually grow with our understanding of different countries and styles of bathing culture.