In Finland the sauna has historically been the place in which women have performed the life-cycle rituals from birthing to washing the dead. Drawing from this history, Johnson and Mortimer chose Sauna No. 60 to site VIHTA. This intervention explored the sauna as a site of transformation and the body’s transition in this context.

A performance took place – a sequence of photographs were taken – giving evidence to the initiatory experience of experiencing extreme heat and using birch to stimulate the skin. The individual SX-70s were sutured onto the existing metal grill separating the viewer from the sauna space. As one approached, sound was triggered – the transition from pain to pleasure being heard.

Site: Sauna no. 60, a traditional sauna building in the grounds of the Pielisen Museum – a museum on the Russian border dedicated to the preservation of Karelian history.

Image: SX-70 Polaroid photographs showing 15 stages in the development of a bruise on skin. The skin was bruised with a vihta – birch twigs used to stimulate circulation during sauna.

Sound: One minute audio loop – a woman in the final stages of birth.

Catalogue available