Some Background Reading OR A Code Of Conduct
Thanks for your interest to find out more about the Sauna Reading Group. The Sauna Reading Group is an attempt to force one traditional format into another.
It is, as the name suggests, a reading group hosted in a functioning sauna cabin. A research tool to calmly, slowly, closely, examine authenticity, process, context and awkward interaction. I am interested in how we navigate the communal rituals of sauna and reading group, and how the demands of each one might benefit the other. For each session I invite a small number of guests to join me discussing a short text about a theme tangentially related to the sauna experience. That could be isolation, personal space, out of body experience, health, boredom, nudity, small architecture, or our relationship to the elements. They have mainly been hosted in the basement sauna of the Finnish Church in Rotherhithe, but also in other public and private saunas around the UK and Europe. Sessions have either been self-organised by me or at the invitation of an interested group or organisation. Do get in touch if you would like to be involved. This document will evolve as the project does.
- Barry Sykes
Founder, Sauna Reading Group
The Sauna Reading Group Sequence (Steps 1-10)
Including an selection of optional reading, listening, singing, laughing, drawing, breathing & feedback exercises.
- THE GROUP can be large or small. But between three and ten works best. People come by word of mouth or other connections. But it is rare for everyone to know each other. - DRESS CODE is swimwear, or whatever clothes you’re comfortable sweating and showering in. We have done sessions naked - following Finnish tradition - but only if everyone has asked to do it that way. - THE HEAT will control your movement, so go in and out of the sauna cabin whenever you need to. The conversation will adapt accordingly. Sometimes more talk happens when cooling off outside, sometimes not. Silence is always fine. Listen to each other and your body. Say what’s needed. That is the SRG ethos. - SAFETY & RESPECT are crucial to the process. For this to be a satisfying experience please respect each others opinions, bodies & personal space. - ACCESS to most saunas includes some steps up and down. If this is practically difficult for you then I can offer assistance or find a more accessible sauna. Other access needs – BSL, large type etc. - can also be accommodated with advance notice. - the changing area and showers at the saunas we use can often be informal or open plan. But we always work together to make sure everyone is comfortable. Just ask me if you’re unsure about anything.
- DOCUMENTATION of the SRG is kept to a minimum, with a few discreet photos agreed on by the group. Attendees are allowed to document too, in this or other ways – drawings, diagrams, audio etc. then invited to share with group permission. - SESSIONs often HAve A CO-HOST who I select the text with and suggests other guests. This has been a great way to open the process up beyond my frame of reference and to start the conversation in advance of the reading group happening. - THE CONTEXT of each sauna is always significant. For example the Finnish Church sauna is in the basement of a place of worship and community centre, but it is interesting to consider why each sauna is where it is and who uses it. - THERE IS NO FIXED STRUCTURE to the session as I’d rather let the heat guide our activity. Conversation flows naturally but can also be encouraged with various group exercises: reading, listening, silence, singing, forced laughter or some useful question prompts. - POST SAUNA DRINKS are always an enjoyable part of the process, allowing us to discuss our discussion, or not. Usually somewhere close by - a pub, bar, terrace, public square, maybe by water. - Always aSK ME if you are uncertain about any part of this process. My aim is for you to feel as comfortable as possible during the reading group. This handbook is designed to answer most questions but if anything is still unclear just ask. My contact details are on the back page.
SAUNA READING GROUPS SO FAR: #1
Discussing ‘TheStrange Case of the North Pond Hermit’, Michael Finkel, GQ magazine, 2014. Attending: Simon Willems (UK), Hans Rosenström (FI), Elina Suoyrjö (FI) Friday 4/3/2016 - The Finnish Church, Rotherhithe, London
Discussing extracts from Dr Anthony Storr's 'Solitude', 1988. from the SSW Edge Effects Library. and 'The Stranger in the Woods', Michael Finkel, 2017 Attending: Current SSW International Artists in Residence, SSW staff. Saturday 27/1/18 - Scottish Sculpture Workshop, Lumsden, Scotland
Discussing Marlene Haring's 'Report to an Academy' 2015. Attending: Vesta Kroese (NL), Marlene Haring (AUT) Friday 2/3/ 18, 3-5pm - The Finnish Church, Rotherhithe, London
Reading 'Auto-Immunity: A Self-Destructive Service' by Emma Balkind, 2018.. Attending: Mari Keski-Korsu (FI), Yvonne Billimore (UK) Friday 28/8/18, 7-9pm - SOLU / BioArt Society, Helsinki, Finland
Reading Carolee Schneeman's 'Parts of a Body House', 1957-67. Attending: Karen Di Franco (UK), Irene Revell (UK), Mohammad Namazi (IRN) Friday 16/11/ 18, 2-4pm - The Finnish Church, Rotherhithe, London
Reading an extract of Michael Lambek's 'How to Make Up One's Mind: Reason, Passion & Ethics in Spirit Possession' Attending: Anja Borowicz (POL/UK), Col Self (UK), Harold Offeh (UK) Friday 23/8/2019, 2-4pm -The Finnish Church, Rotherhithe, London
Reading the essay 'Bodies in Heat' by John Christ, from a paper by Pia Lindman about her 'Hybrid Sauna' that placed a two-person divided sauna in the courtyard of PS1, New York Attending: Mine Erişir(TR), Olivia Glasser (UK), Wendy Liu (CN), Mika Meskinen (FI), Kimmo Raitio(FI), Bethany Wells (UK). Friday 24/1/2020, 2-4pm - The Finnish Church, Rotherhithe, London
Reading the essay 'The Word Made Fresh: Mystical Encounter and the New Weird Divine' by Elvia Wilk, published in e-flux journal #92. Attending: Sarah Browne (IRL), Lucy Sames (UK). Natalie Boobis (UK) Friday 21/2/ 2020, 12-2pm - The Finnish Church, Rotherhithe, London
Reading from'Belonging: A Culture of Place' by bell hooks, 1990 Attending: Charlotte Troy (UK), A.R.Hopwood (UK), Melodie Roulaud (FR) Friday 9/10/ 2022, 2-4pm – Pop-up Sauna, Beaconsfield, Vauxhall
Currently planning SRGs #10, #11, #12 & beyond, on Intimacy, Repetition, Laughter, Childcare, Bodily Fluids & Old Food. For saunas in the UK and abroad.
SAUNA READING EXTRACTS: Sometime in the 1990s, answered Knight, he passed a hiker while walking in the woods. "What did you say?" asked Perkins-Vance. "I said, ’Hi,’ " Knight replied. Other than that single syllable, he insisted, he had not spoken with or touched another human being, until this night, for twenty seven years. ’The Strange Case of the North Pond Hermit’, Michael Finkel, GQ, 2014. SRG#1
My body’s ability to distinguish itself became broken, and so my immune system would set off a chain of events any time that it detected a rise in histamine in my body. Any time I ate, slept, showered, caught UV light, was too hot or wore tight clothes, my body responded with a rash of hives on my skin and with spontaneous swelling of my extremities . 'Auto-Immunity: A Self-Destructive Service' by Emma Balkind, 2018 SRG #4
When you enter the Body House you walk south and north for a long time; you come to an open circular structure – a staircase of ribs, smooth and shiny white. You will see a fat knotted rope of black hair hanging down. The circular space become dark. Take off your clothes, leave them. Hoist yourself up the rope; the hairs spread out and become a carpet you crawl along. It has led you into the Cat House which is somewhere behind the eyes of the house. 'Parts of a Body House', by Carolee Schneeman's, 1957-67 SRG#5
The difficulty of private citizens to express themselves publicly is bound up with the market economy and leaves nudity to flaunt itself only in protected private situations or under the influence of alcohol or other substances. Also crucially important is the role of the image of the body in advertising where it functions as an agent in the flow of capital and the production of desire for commodities. The shame and fear of nudity in U.S. culture are inextricably bound to the body’s oversexualization and overcirculation. It is an eroticized body that the advertising industry has stripped of its anus, its vagina, its penis, its hair, as well as its lumps, odors and secretions, in order to function in the continuation of consumption. 'Bodies in Heat' by John Christ, on Pia Lindman’s 'Hybrid Sauna', PS1, New York SRG#7
Our Sauna Hat...
...for notepaper & pencil
Some feedback from participants of the
Please contact me below if you would like to support, host, or attend.
Sauna Reading Group
Est. 2016 Founder, Barry Sykes
contact: email@example.com #saunareadinggroup barrysykes.com
Colophon: Sauna Reading Group Handbook, Summer 2022. Text and illustrations by Barry Sykes. All photos by Barry Sykes or The Finnish Church, London. © Barry Sykes 2022