Sauna Caliente Curated by Eva Birkenstock KUB Projects, Kunsthaus Bregenz, Austria 23 October 2016 – 15 January 2017
La Sauna Caliente, a site-specific installation in the former KUB Collection Showcase, is an immersive recreation of a spa-like scenario in which Calero references those typical of the regional landscape of Vorarlberg as a site for sports, body- and wellness culture.
Mainly originating in northern European countries and established as a Nordic tradition, but also used by indigenous populations of Central America, saunas have become widely integrated into modern-day First World health and leisure practices. The proliferation of spa-like environments, and the increasingly omnipresent wellness culture and aesthetics in western societies reveal the perception of care of the self as a right, and not a privilege. It circulates as a commodity, in a system where fitness, health and inner-and-outer beauty are social markers with a direct translation of status value.
This tendency converges with the fascination for exoticism and translates into ventures such as the Tropical Islands resort, a glass dome containing an artificially created habitat of an everlasting summer world. The portrayal of exoticism in these environments is not always gratuitous: it produces a sense of closeness with nature that provides a sort of legitimizing layer, an illusion of authenticity. A warm and sunny waterpark and wellness-spa, a place to relax and get distance from contemporary life stress and to indulge in an array of health and beauty treatments: a literal “bubble” that appears as a metaphoric one. Physically abstracted from the neighboring territory, the creation of an artificial ecosystem revolving around the physical care of the individual stands as a parallel to the isolation system of wealthy societies that are oblivious to the larger scale reality surrounding them. While cleansing our pores and relieving our souls, the conditions of our existence as advantaged communities rely precisely on a worldwide socio-economical imbalance, which we need to ignore in order to properly enjoy ourselves.
The attention to oneself as a disordered body disguises the notions of privilege to self-indulgence under the veil of the right to self-care. It then becomes not only a right, but an obligation of the contemporary subject: it intersects with the duty to pay tribute to one’s body and mind, and thus becomes a cult and a form of labor. Producing an image of this constantly updated body is essential to the contemporary demand and it becomes an institutionalized practice.
Sol Calero’s work explores the strategies of institutionalization of these practices, and how they become a commonplace where identity is simultaneously performed and produced. Her starting point and the source of her research are Latin American cultures and their iconic forms of aesthetization. As Calero has already stated with previous projects, the spaces where this performative identity takes place are essentially spaces of socialization. The beauty salon, the dance class, the school, or even the telenovela, are scenarios that she recreates, exposing that the construction of a common paradigm is mediated by, and inseparable from, the social fabric where it is woven.
In La Sauna Caliente we find ourselves invited to take part in the ritual of such spaces: the robes, the slippers, the warm light, the changing rooms, the lounge chairs, they all provide the necessary déco to let the relaxation soak in, while watching and experiencing the series of contributions from Blunt x Skensved, Conglomerate, Trevor Good, Cristian Guardia, Hanne Lippard, Dafna Maimon, and Érika Ordosgoitt, revolving around the constructed notions of the body, self-image and daily nature.