Hamam is “The Magazine of Letting Go”. We speak to its founding editors Ekin Balcıoğlu and Steve Weiner about the communal joy of bathing.
Where did the idea for a ’print bathing magazine’ come from? Can you tell us a little about your respective backgrounds before this venture?
Ekin: I am a visual artist and curator from Turkey. I earned graduate degrees in fine arts and visual critical studies in the United States. In addition to my formal art studies, I received an entirely different American education in sociology, spatial design, chauvinism, spirituality and sin in an uncommon place – the public bathhouse.
Steve: I am an entrepreneur, investor, and now a magazine publisher. I spent several years working with technology startups and advising small businesses, but before that I was a nuclear submarine officer in the US Navy.
Ekin: We came from different backgrounds and met in a bathhouse, where I became the artist-in-residence and creative director. My initial idea was to do a creative project to shed light on the subcultures that come together in communal bathing. As the content ideas flowed, Steve introduced me to WET Magazine – an avant garde publication founded by Leonard Koren in the late ‘70s. I thought a magazine would be the perfect medium to spread bathing art and culture, especially because most bathing spots don’t allow electronics. They’re a great place to read. In essence, the mission of Hamam is to turn the universe on to communal bathing.
In one of your features you looked at the act of a ‘Sky Burial’ in Mongolia which intrigued us. Can you explain the concept and how this idea fits with the ethos of Hamam?
Sky Burial is a Buddhist funeral ceremony where the family of the deceased lets go by allowing vultures to consume the corpse. Our friend and filmmaker, Tad Fettig, traveled to Mongolia to shoot a documentary, which included two funerals. We wanted to interview Tad for the debut issue to intentionally open a channel from Hamam to a non-obvious practice of letting go.
Can you tell us a bit about your approach to the eye-catching cover design?
Ekin: Each issue has a particular theme that is exemplified by the cover. We use a special metallic treatment to make the covers shine, however the approach to designing each is a bit different.
I think about what Hamam will look like on the shelf at a magazine shop and what each issue looks like next to the others. So, while each issue’s theme stands alone and you can read them in any order, we do encourage readers to collect all the back issues and subscribe 🙂
In 2021, why is print still so alluring?
Steve: Because magazines don’t have a screen.
Ekin: Yes I completely agree. Also, I personally really love creating something printed. I think magazines are incredibly fun to experiment with and I get excited about the special moment when a subscriber gets a new issue or someone discovers the Hamam for the first time at a shop. We design for that real life experience and you can’t do that digitally.
One of the joys of Hamam is like with MacGuffin magazine, you realise the limitations of your mind on the subject matter before you start reading, then it stretches to encompass so much. Can you share some unexpected ideas you have encountered whilst working on Hamam?
Ekin: MacGuffin is one of my favorite magazines today, so I am really honored by the comparison. Something unexpected was how many outstanding submissions we get. When Hamam was getting started, I ignored advice that there wasn’t enough content for a print-only bathing magazine. The curator in me knew there was a lot to say both visually and in words, however whenever we announce an open call for submissions we inevitably get at least one that makes it into the magazine, sometimes more.
We loved your focus on Heterogeneous Waters in the recent edition. It is one of a series of public interventions in Holland, in this instance focusing on a communal bathing experience that takes place in a temporary public footpath in a parking lot. How important are these to, safely, bring friends and strangers back into each others presence again?
Steve: I think communal bathing not only symbolizes a return to normal social behavior, but it’s a positive way to strengthen a community’s health. Whether you’re sweating in a sauna or soaking in hot springs, there are beneficial effects on your mind and body. Having other people around you feeling that same way only enhances the vibes. Put simply: it’s really important.
Can you tell us about your own favourite bathing experience?
Ekin: There are so many amazing bathing spots, but we recently brought our one-month-old daughter to Glenwood Springs, Colorado, which has the largest natural hot springs pool in the world. The water is said to put you in a good mood and I really believe that. The pool can comfortably fit hundreds of people and they all have a smile on their faces.
Steve: Meeting Ekin and starting this journey together.
Issue no. 4 (Naked) is out now and available along with issue no. 1 (Dedication) and no. 2 (Heat), $20-$25.