Celebrating the Sauna

Story: Eeva-Kaisa Ahlamo
When abroad, it’s very typical to encounter parts of one’s own culture in surprising situations. For the Finnish people, it’s often a glimpse of a Marimekko design somewhere or discussions about Nokia cell phones with foreign people. Sometimes, though, the encounter is so intense that it really forces you to see familiar things through someone else’s eyes.

Alexander Lembke giving a tour through his photography exhibition

This was the case for me, when I visited the sauna photography exhibition by Mr Alexander Lembke. The exhibition was located in the Kunsthaus in Erfurt. I’ve had the pleasure of taking part in Mr Lembke’s photography course in the Bauhaus-University Weimar and visiting the exhibition was part of the course studies. Since we had had some conversations about saunas already during the course, I was aware of the passion Mr Lembke has for the sauna culture. He visited TAMK International Week last year and he has also been the contact person between these two universities.

As a Finn, I must admit first it felt weird to step in to the exhibition rooms. The big board stated the sauna prices with clear Finnish and the exhibition prints were very... well, Finnish. Naturally there are saunas also elsewhere than Finland, but for this project it’s exactly the Finnish sauna that Mr Lembke concentrates in. He has spent for the last four years visiting Finland from time to time and spent countless hours in different saunas.

The exhibition itself was very charming in its simplicity and uncomplicated sense of humour. There were some extra props in every room, e.g. birch benches and Finnish beer cans (unfortunately they were empty). Outside the building, there was also a big sign for a sauna that apparently had attracted a couple of people to come inside and ask how much would it cost to come and enjoy the steam. During the opening night there really had been a tent sauna on the roof of the building, it had been also very popular.

It is impossible for me to say what other students thought about it all. For a Finn, a sauna is so normal, that one doesn’t really pay much attention to it. That’s why it was interesting to see it from a foreigner’s point of view - especially from one who is so passionate about it. There is a photography book coming out later this year and the exhibition is also coming to Finland later this year. So, the project is not going to end for a long time and there are many reasons for that. For one, Mr Lembke states that there are not that many sauna books out there. (Probably we Finns are just looking at our saunas from so close that we forget how special they actually are.) Mr Lembke also says that he wants to continue making the photos for a few decades so that he can see what will happen with the Finnish sauna culture. But I think the real main reason he is doing this project is that he’s just having so much fun while doing it...

Eeva-Kaisa is an IMP09 on her study exchange