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The Project

The Black Bania

Black Bania refers to how the walls of Russian bathhouses (and Finnish saunas) were smoke-stained by the wood fires that heated them. Black Bania is a smoking hot room on a frozen lake. A tipi will house a sauna room available for use by the public and provide additional space for restorative sauna related activity. Within this structure we will explore the rich history of communal sweat bathing referencing Finnish saunas, Russian banias, Roman baths and Turkish hammams, Korean zzimzilbangs, and Native American sweat lodges.


Black Bania offers a gathering point at which one may consider the intimate practices of cleansing and relaxation among humans. Until the advent of affordable private plumbing, the bathhouse was the social center of many communities through out the world. The sauna room will be available for use by the immediate Art Shanty community and the general public. Our programming will explore aspects of communal cleansing and other bathhouse culture by providing a space for a series of intimate performances, intellectual exchange, and wholesome physical cleansing.

The sauna will be open to the public on a bring-your-own-towel basis. Elaine and other team members will be on hand to assist bathers with the facility so they may fully enjoy the restorative benefits of communal sweat bathing.

Bathhouses have traditionally supported intellectual exploration and exchange. Roman baths provided vast libraries and study rooms for recovering bathers. Today’s Korean zzimzilbangs provide research and seminar rooms. Black Bania will house Paul D. Dickinson’s Riot Act Reading Series and the Renegade Book Lounge, and a series of salons and sweaty speakeasies hosted by team members as a way to stimulate intellectual exchange.

In addition to providing a sauna for public use, Black Bania will provide a site for a performance-based artwork, The Sauna Project by conceptual artist, Elaine Tin Nyo. Elaine will conduct a series of appointments within the sauna. These intimate “performances” will take place without an immediate audience. After the sauna is over, her sauna mate is invited to interpret the experience on a website for the secondary audience. The website will be an accumulation of the participants’ entries unedited by the artist. Her initial sauna mates will be chosen from the Black Bania team members and invitations will radiate out from there. The project is an act of trust, intimacy, and the conflation of the artist, viewer, and model roles. This project received a Franklin Furnace Grant in 2008.

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