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We recently heard rumors of a mysterious happening in downtown Los Angeles involving a giant disco-ball-shaped steam room. Reportedly, the artist who created it fires it up once a week and invites friends, and friends of friends, over for steams. We needed to investigate.
The disco-ball steam room is inside artist Michael Parker's warehouse studio, in a desolate offshoot of downtown. The vibe was laid-back, respectful, friendly, and not creepy, with about 40 people, including some familiar faces. The disco ball turns out to be more of a disco egg on stilts, like a lunar capsule or hot air balloon. Entry is via a hole at the bottom and requires a bit of climbing, groping into total darkness, and asking "room for one more?" (it fits 6-8 people, snugly, on a bench around the widest part of the egg's circumference). The steam was infused with lavender and rosemary, which someone said were picked from the side of a highway.
In an adjacent room, there was a mesmerizing screening of Harry Bertoia's sound sculpture films. Next to the mirrored steam-ship, a DJ (Tim Leanse) played similarly themed noise records, as a projected candlelight installation by Lucky Dragons refracted off the disco-mirrors, throwing pixels of light around the dark room.
Our last steam of the night, by chance, was shared with Michael, the man behind this odd, sensorial communal sweating, and he noted that every week the atmosphere is different. To avoid it becoming insular, he and his studio mates invite different artists to DJ, select steam scents, and create "engaged installations." The smells include the obviously pleasant, such as mint, ginger, and rose, as well as the more experimental, like horseradish and seaweed. The installations range from video screenings to live death metal to a waterfall coming out of a hyperbaric chamber in the rafters, with associated cold plunges (by artist Joel Kyack).
Parker recently received a provisional patent (classifications: Bottom-Entry Saunas, Steam Rooms, Steam Eggs). We hope he gets it.
Photo courtesy of Michael Parker.