Sweat it Out — Towel Diplomacy in Boston

Letting off steam in Boston using our Mobile Sauna.

Sweat it Out hosted discussions about areas of tension in Boston while (simultaneously) keeping the steam going in our DS Institute Mobile Sauna. Inspired by Finnish sauna diplomacy and the saying that “everyone in the sauna is equal” we invited a range of professionals to guide conversations and activities about how Boston’s changing landscape affects us all. The lounge and exhibition space included video, a sauna library, images created during the project’s development, a crystal jar of sweat, sweat prints made by Sweat it Out attendees using pH sensitive paper and various other evolving artworks.

People trickled back and forth between the lounge in FPAC’s Assemblage Gallery and the sauna parked outside. A live-processed audio feed distorted the voices from inside the sauna, projecting them into the lounge, offering a subtle reminder of the value of talking face to face in neutral space. An evolving bulletin board provided an unintimidating, communal communication space. By the end of the project there were notices about protests and community meetings related to neighborhood development; historical articles people were inspired to share; doodles made while participating in our facilitated conversations; and abandoned articles of clothing (pinned to the wall for no-questions-asked reclamation.)

Sweat it Out took place in Fort Point’s beautiful, MBTA-accessible waterfront, where rapid real estate development presented immediate fodder for conversations about Boston’s conflicted desires for growth and authentic local character. The modest structure of a hand built, wood-fired sauna and down to earth textures of the evolving, immersive lounge space, stand in sharp contrast to the bling of all the new buildings in Fort Point. This dissonance provided fitting backdrop for bringing different viewpoints into the same space.

The facilitators offered different pathways for people to join in the conversation, and the lounge provided various ways for visitors to engage with the project’s themes. People perused a small library of books about the cultures of sweat bathing, filed gripes in a “Beef Box”, and ate Finnish-inspired snacks. We had two photo albums: one, titled Home, featured crowdsourced images of construction sites throughout Boston, and the other, titled Friends and Family featured images from the City of Boston’s 411 public complaint database.

Sweat it Out events included: Skin in the Game, a game designed and led by Pennie Taylor where players were prompted to make decisions as developers and community members. Orion Kriegman lead relaxing (but lively) small group visioning exercises for imagining what a future Boston we’d all be happy to live in would feel like, as well as seeking new, creative ways forward after community rifts and trauma. Herbalist Anna Booth Cohen guided visitors through a series of embodied processes to help facilitate connection to the land in its present, past, and future states. Artist, Christin Shea, created a sigil tea service in support of the project goals, and served tea made with water boiled on the sauna’s stove. The final sweat featured readings from the Beef Box and had everyone dancing along with DJ BCKWLD and DJ IBG.

Sweat it Out is a project by Caitlin Foley, Heather Kapplow, and Misha Rabinovich

Sweat it Out was made possible by a Creative City Grant from the New England Foundation for the Arts and through in-kind support from Fort Point Arts Community. We received additional funding from Blue Hills Bank.

Photographs are by Lani Asuncion, except for Polaroids which were taken by the artists.