FRIDAY FEATURE: An Alternative Spa Experience
“Have you found a way to describe it yet?” is my first question for Melissa Unger about SEYMOUR+ space. We work our way through the many options, laugh that after nearly a year in business some people are still calling it an art gallery [editor’s note: it is emphatically not an art gallery], and eventually settle on a ‘spa for your mind’.
Borne of a moment of complete meditation back in 2004, Seymour Projects is an ongoing series of multidisciplinary projects which explore philosophy and psychology through encouraged creativity. Over the last decade, Melissa has realised many projects under the Seymour umbrella, including a magazine, plus a wealth of mind-expanding challenges. Little more than a year ago, Seymour Projects presented its biggest project to date: SEYMOUR+. A short detour from Paris’ Canal Saint Martin in a burgeoning quartier on the Boulevard Magenta, SEYMOUR+ is a physical space sharing the same principals as any other Project, where guests are offered an opportunity to surf their minds through five different environments which provide a framework for exploration.
Since its inception, I have found myself returning time and again to SEYMOUR+. There are countless ways to interact with the space, I tend to go for contemplative alone time, whereas some visitors are more excited about the “digital detox” element. It is true, this is a phone-free zone: on the website the first thing it says about itself is “The SEYMOUR+ space is a technology-free zone. It is your haven, your parenthesis, your decompression chamber.” Guests are asked to switch off their phones, and switch on their minds. But the reasoning runs much deeper than simply disconnecting from multimedia distractions. The essence of the space is to offer people an environment to get in tune with their imaginations, and to pamper their inner-selves as they might take care of their outer-selves.
The truth is, there is no concrete way to use the space. What Melissa Unger has done is set up a warm, comfortable (and might I note stylish) environment where anybody can come and find some solace. There are some elements which do offer succinct direction, take for example the ‘Selfie Booth’. From the outside it looks like a disco ball Photomaton, but once guests are sat inside they face a mirror, not a camera, and are instructed to draw themselves. But even this activity can be interpreted in all manner of ways: some prefer to focus on the creative element, taking the time to meticulously create a realistic version of themselves. Others are more drawn to written descriptions. Some write the date, some write their name, others don’t. There are no rules. Seymour allows guests to remain as anonymous as they wish, while offering them an expansive playground in which to focus their energies on what Melissa calls their “inner spark“, their intuition.
For the curious but unconvinced, there is no better way to judge it than to physically go there, whether for 5 minutes just to see what it’s like, or a good therapeutic hour or few. So many people have arrived with no real expectations, and left surprisingly content, feeling lighter than air – I say this as a regular visitor myself. You may have noticed that SEYMOUR+ is a tricky one to do justice to with words alone, and yet so many people are writing about it, we must have a point!
So what is the key to SEYMOUR+’s success? a deep and dedicated understanding of philosophical theory, combined with a realistic sense of what people are wont to be stimulated by, plus a light touch of humour (see also: the ‘Projection Room’). It is approachable, it sparks people’s curiosity, ignites their imaginations, and reminds us that there is no shame in having thoughts and feelings.
SEYMOUR+, 41 Boulevard de Magenta 75010, Paris
Tues – Sat 12pm-8pm
Words by Alice Brace. Images by Camille Malissen for www.seymourprojects.com
October 16th, 2015