The heat is on for Finnish art festival

It's not often that an art installation sets your heart race racing and gets you hot and bothered. But that's something that residents of the Finnish city of Turku are going to have to get used to this summer with the arrival of SaunaLab, four genuine working saunas that also happen to be installation pieces. Dotted around the city and open to the public throughout the summer, the artist-designed saunas were commissioned as part of Turku's tenure as European Capital of Culture 2011 and are intended to update and re-imagine traditional Nordic sauna culture while presenting art to the public in an innovative and unusual way.

The project's four saunas each invite sauna-goers to engage with art works in the intimate, shared public space of the sauna, from the environment-responsive sound installation of The Sounding Dome Sauna to Solaris-sauna, whose transparent walls and ceiling turn the sauna's surroundings into a living panorama. Sauna Obscura, by Heidi Lunabba, functions as a camera obscura, projecting images of the world around it on to its interior walls. Integral to Lunabba's design is the fact that the sauna is floating on Turku's Aura river, and thus presenting an ever-changing scenography to thoseinside it.

Water also has an important role to play in Hot Cube, a sauna moored on the river outside Turku's contemporary art gallery, the Wäinö Aaltonen Museum. Unlike the other saunas, which are outward-looking in their perspectives, Hot Cube directs its focus towards the sensory elements of sauna culture itself, highlighting the very particular scents of wood, water and fire, as well as the tar that coats the sauna's exterior surface.

Tarja Eskelinen, SaunaLab's co-coordinator, stresses that "the project is interactive and experience-based – you can personally try out the saunas. The aim is to give people unique memories and novel experiences".

Lunabba, who says she has always been fascinated by the camera obscura, created Sauna Obscura because "Sauna has always been a part of my life. It has something of the same calm atmosphere I find inside the room-sized camera. I wanted to combine the physical experience of sauna with the visual experience of the camera obscura. Philosophically, I like to compare Sauna Obscura with the human mind: the surrounding world is there all the time, but like the image in the sauna, the thoughts are there on the inside; they are private, though also part of what is shared".

'SaunaLab' is open to the public from 1 June to 31 August. www.turku2011.fi

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