I first wrote about the floatation baths at Ovarium. People come to this place of business to attend a treatment session or to work there, so in this sense, the Ovarium environment has been constructed as a public/private space for its users, yet it is not an openly public space like a public swimming pool or a beach. It does not constitute an entirely public space because it has been produced and shaped as an experience “product” for a certain demographic of bodies, which is then reproduced by its staff and reproduced again by its users. A spa environment is, by nature of its capitalist business model, a space that entices a mostly middle- to upper-class clientele with disposable income to purchase its therapeutic treatments, products and services (and is usually the kind of place where I feel very uncomfortable, as if I don’t belong there). If you happen upon this space and have the economic means to enter as a client, then you are welcomed in.
It’s interesting to consider that the floatation bath at Ovarium is all about embodying an inward experience of gaining access to your own representational space while floating in a private, liquid, womb-like enclosure, but it now makes me think about how this state of “doing” intersects with the concept of phenomenology to turn such an experience into a commercial product. Given the steady commodification of health and wellness as a luxury service instead of a state of “doing” to achieve or aspire to, perhaps it is telling that Ovarium is located in a building that used to be a bank.
Ovarium is a place designed to be a healing and quiet sanctuary from the hectic pace of daily life, yet there is a noticeable behavioral practice in place. The staff gently enforce the behavioral dynamic code between producers and users of what Henri Lefebvre would term this representation of space by speaking in hushed tones and maintaining the smile of therapeutic calm at all times, thereby imposing and shaping the owner’s ideology of tranquility and sensorial wellness in its spatial practice as to how a body is to behave in this space, as well as the desired experiences and/or outcomes of spending time here. Anyone who is loud or boisterous or arrives intoxicated would certainly be directed to tame their behavior and actions or would not be permitted to engage in this environment, thus reinforcing to which bodies and characters this space caters. Two people using one floatation tank at the same time is not at all allowed.
This environment hosts a very mixed clientele; no bodies that I have seen in this space are discriminated against on the basis of skin color, age, gender, or sexual orientation, yet the massage therapy is reserved by law for bodies aged 11 years or older. Although the entrance and many of the services at Ovarium are located at street level and assumedly accessible by most bodies, its spatial arrangement now makes me question how a person with physical mobility limitations, i.e.: a body in a wheelchair, could assert their independent agency to access these services as they are intended to be experienced in this space. In research, I discovered that the floatation baths are in fact not accessible to bodies in wheelchairs, although massage therapy and pulsar light treatments are accessible with advance notice to accommodate. I originally thought about how floating weightlessly in a tank of water for an hour would be a pleasing sensorial experience for any type of body, but just as Sarah Ahmed asserts in her essay A Phenomenology of Whiteness, I’ve now realized that “spaces also take shape by being orientated around some bodies, more than others” (157). If certain bodies are restricted from being able to indulge in a space like the floatation pods based on physical ability and economic stature, I have now begun to think critically and liken these simple floats to an exclusive amusement-like ride for a few privileged bodies among us.
Ahmed, Sara. “A Phenomenology of Whiteness.” Feminist Theory. Vol. 8, No. 2 (2007). 149-168.
Lefebvre, Henri. “The Production of Space.” The People, Place, and Space Reader. Ed. Jen Gieseking and William Mangold. London: Routledge, 2014. 289-293.