One of the exciting things about city living is that there are buildings you probably won't venture inside until invited. For some, SeaDog's on Gottingen Street is one of those curious places. Now's your chance: The sauna and spa, which caters to the gay and bisexual community, is opening its doors next Wednesday night for Audio Bathhouse, an installation of audio and video art curated by the Halifax Audio Club, part of the month-long Sound Bytes festival.
HAC, an independent committee of Eyelevel Gallery, came up with the hot idea of hosting art at SeaDog's over beer. "I don't even know who said it, but we were laughing about those speakers that look like rocks---I don't even know what came first---and then someone yelled out 'sonic sauna...'" says artist Eleanor King. Excited by their steamy plan, the group took a cab to Menz Bar to introduce themselves to Doug Melanson, who owns both businesses. "He loved the idea from the start," says King. A tour was arranged. "I felt really privileged to be able to go. It is a place for a specific community and it's pretty much men only, unless it's SheDogs, when the lesbian community gets together and rents it for their own purposes. It's interesting to make that space available to a wider public as an art show."
With location secured, HAC put out a call for audio and video submissions, asking artists to consider seven rooms in the space, like the sauna and basement sling room. They received about 40 entries from all over, and eventually chose eight.
"We didn't really have a curatorial premise in mind per se of what we were going to chose, but the curatorial elements emerged based on the submissions we received," says King. Non-narrative works under 10 minutes made the cut so that observers can move around the rooms without time restraints. King says, "We weren't interested in the more documentary style or narrative audio or video pieces; not because they weren't interesting, but we wanted the experience to be overwhelming and fun."
Dawn Matheson, a Guelph radio producer, sent in "Coming Clean," which will play in SeaDog's revolving door. Morrison set up a phone line where anonymous confessors could tell their secrets. "I'm going to tell you a see-kwet. I love you..." a kid whispers; next, a man with a Connery-smooth voice laughs about nipple play and filling up baby bottles with bodily fluid. Nic Spicer's audio "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Phallixy" will play in a room starkly furnished with a leather couch and handcuffs. The young Halifax artist and frequent hitchhiker began discreetly recording conversations with drivers who picked him up. It's an astonishing lesson in the not-so-subtle ways older men attempt to seduce their much younger rides.
"Monkeyboy and Juana Faulk" is a sensual, seizure-riffic video by Saskatoon artist Carrie Gates and KERO, where two boys in Mexican wrestling masks and goggles wrestle and battle in a confined prison-like space behind a layer of flashing digital stripes and patterns. King says that the video will play on small monitors in the private cabin rooms. Philip Clark took porn footage and colourized it in pale pinks and blues. The images are kaleidoscopically abstract, but if you squint, various body parts are doing their thing, while distorted moans and groans emerge from under a quirky electronic tune.
Ian MacTilstra's romp-on-a-raft video is soothing thanks to its minimal lapping-water soundtrack, which King says plays well in the hot tub because "the existing sounds of the room would be overwhelming enough." It's all not sex either: nautical themes float to the top with Michael Fernandes and Patrick Burgomaster's version of the sea chanty "Drunken Sailor" and François Gaudet's lively musical ode to the ghost ship Mary Celeste. Winnipeg composer Daryn Bond's "Lair Libertine" accompanies those sweating in the sauna. "He wanted us to play it in the darkest, dampest place we have," says King. "It has this exotic, wet feeling and we wanted something calming and relaxing there."
A $5 entry fee includes towel service if you want the full experience of a dip in the hot tub or a chill-out in the sauna, but street clothes are cool, too. Just don't forget your open mind and ears.