work-in-process: pretty sweaty

November 22, 2020 Hannah Perner-Wilson

Dear Christian. before corona, you had built a geodesic dome. with the corona measures, you had the idea to convert it into a one-person sauna. so you scaled down your design, ordered a small oven, made a tarp… and then went inside to sweat. how was the visit to your self-built sauna?

The sixth, and final, conversation in a series of work-in-process conversations with S&&O masters with Christian Römer who has been documenting and sweating in his one-person sauna….. Our conversation played out slowly via email over the course of some weeks.

C: Quite sweaty. The heavy Cottoncloth insulates and permeates at the same time. Good climate. The oven is powerful enough for the small space. Combined with some water on the rocks each 2-3 minutes it creates a fresh heat with enough oxygen. If you are outside in the daytime, you can see some light through the cloth, but otherwise it is blind on both sides. So you are really concentrated on yourself and the experience. The natural materials and the construction could as well be used for a proper sweat hut, and yes: one impulse to do the piece was Corona-Time, as no public Sauna was open for some months. I wanted to contest that situation with a positive possibility.

And since then you have, as far as i know, had the opportunity to exhibit the sauna…. but unfortunately you’re not able to receive visitors due to corona. How has the virus inspired and impacted your work?

The virus was the reason to do the work after all. In March I met a friend who wanted to tear down an old geodesic dome, which he had used as a stage with a roof, two thirds of a former bigger Dome. It was falling apart and he asked me if I could tear it down, as the weather had already damaged some of the wood. At that moment I saw the possibility to make a smaller dome from it. The website offers calculators and surprise: the leftover pieces and the still existing screws would match exactly a 2 V – Dome, if changes in length and new holes would work out.

So the first lockdown was filled with activity in a backyard in Prenzlauer Berg. Bending the wood, softening with sandpaper, drilling new holes and cutting and sawing in a hackspace at night.

As I started documenting the process on facebook, People began to ask which material I used or how to do the ventilation. It became this open process by putting photos and some comment and reacting to or incoroporating the comments of the others. The result was the Beta-Version with a plastic sheet around it, fixed by orange string. That was truly corona sauna for one.

Can you tell us briefly what happened then?

This Beta – Version we discussed with friends and I offered them to put the sauna into their garden, so they could use it. After their first sweat they said that its getting smelly, probably because of the plastic sheet. So we decided to design a Half-Ball from cloth to cover the construction instead of the plastic. I found out from my FB – Sauna-experts that Nessel(Baumwollleinstoff) is a very good material for that matter and found exactly the right Baumwollleinstoff at a Cloth – Outlet in Mahlsdorf.

After a longer talk with Friedrich, when it was possible to meet again outside in summer, we discussed the possible masterproject and he gave a hint: why not stick to what had been done already? And go from there. So for the June 2020 -“Vorspiel” I built a basic version of the project, using my bigger dome as well, which I had built end of 2cd semester in Ingos Werkstatt. And a classic Gardena-gardenshower, one emaille-waterbucket and a wooden spoon.

In April I had put in a Concept to Schaubude and the masterproject | installation was supposed to be part of the festival “Theater der Dinge” and I had already asked friends to help for the build-Up in Ballhaus Ost, 3rd floor studio space. This space was quite small in regard to the objects and my ideas were dealing with that. How to enter into a somehow claustrophobic space, crowded by the big objects, makes one feel small. This fell apart unfortunatelyon short notice because of Corona.

In a week i rethought the project for the UNTEN –Space. This was a very productive phase, as it meant cutting and rearranging of material in order to reduce each station to its core and receive a meaningful composition of form, content and possible interaction.

After visiting the Generalprobe of your piece < Attention Aerosoles! > 10 days ago, I can confirm: visiting the one-person sauna is a wonderfully sweaty experience. i experienced it as a very strong bodily sensation that made me feel very present in the small dome. i was in fact not alone, but with my 4month old baby and to a large degree i experienced your work through his eyes, as i navigated the stations with him in my arms and he was very focussed.

You led me through the work by telling me where to go and what i could do at each station, and mentioned that you did this because the cards you had initially intended did not work as planned. For the premiere of the piece the next evening, did you devise a different way of leading people through the work? And if so, how did this work out?

Wonderful that you visited with your son, the youngest audience member ever. I started on the Tutorial/ Manual thinking too late. The cards seemed a simple enough idea that turned out a desaster, when Ingo Mewes came as first visitor. Too dark, too complicated, he was concentrated on the cards instead of the interactive possibilities. This was my responsibility of course. So I changed on the general reherseal to a personal guide modus in an improvisation. For the next day I thought of a more reduced and non-invasive way to point to the offerings and opportunities and tried to perfect that with each new person coming through.

As the Schaubude wants to put some of the one-person-installations in February in a Mini-Festival this can be further worked out. The challenge is always to be not present at all in your own installation physically. Or a specific Character could be worked out, including costume. Or an Audio Version to be loaded on the mobile or via headphones. As well I want to go further on the interactivity and the narration.

In your answer to my last question, you mentioned how you used Facebook as a platform to share your process of building the dome and that this live documentation provided content for discussion among your friends (and public?). did you see this process as part of the “performance”, as part of the work?

The actual outside input was mostly on technical issues in regard to the Sauna-construction. Actually quite specific and interesting details and tips in regard to material and crafting. I am not shure how deep a FB-Friends crowd would follow into the artistic thinking and be willing to contribute. But then I did not try – and simply put forward photos and some explanations and thoughts on the operative process. It definitely was good for myself to document in a public space – and be reminded of the steps the process took.

Looking back there were ideas already in May 2019 at the first „Vorspiel“, then in Essen another step at „Next Level-Festival“, as well at the speculative objects – Class. Finally this came all together – and i could always go back in the timeline and remind myself of the stations and the decisions. As well the material (Wood, Cloth, Liquid, UV-light, Stones) was always coming back in slightly different forms and contexts. It was the ever changing mix of found, designed and loaned parts, that kept the process dynamic.

Documentation is such a good tool for “looking back” and seeing things with a time-line perspective. i believe one can learn some useful things about oneself and one’s process from seeing how one works over time. being able to trace where our ideas come from, can be humbling. to know that they can be embedded in materials! and how almost always we have been working with them for much longer than we think, when we (re-)discover them anew.

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