Kylpyla/The Spa
Kylpyla/The Spa, 1994
Mixed media installation in four parts
Dimensions variable
Retretti Art Center, Punkaharju, Finland

For this art center in the lakes district of eastern Finland, underground “grottoes” were blasted into the granite bedrock to create unconventional exhibition spaces. I first saw them in December 1993, at which time the Center was closed, but learned that each summer some 200,000 viewers make their way through the series of caves. I decided to treat this pilgrimage to subterranean levels as a kind of spa and developed four pieces related to the site and to Finnish culture and customs. There are four elements: a 25′ diameter white-tiled disk ringed by copper pipe and faucets beneath which are large glass vessels continuously filled to overflowing; thirty electric birch-log bonfires installed on a pool that flows through several caves in the center of this work; a series of birch whisks based on ‘vastas’ used by Finns in the sauna. In this installation, the ‘vastas’ were pneumatically driven to rise up approximately 110 degrees, hold that position for a few moments, then slap quickly back to the ground. The action was timed so that the group performed a bit like a middle school band, together but not quite on beat. The final element is a 10′-high by 8′-diameter wooden vessel, from the top of which poured a stream of water.