“Float” 18x24in, Acrylic, marker, colored pencil on wood panel. Erik Abel 2016
My eyeball was on fire. That’s what it felt like. It was pitch black, I couldn’t hear a sound and I was floating in a puddle of warm water with about 800 pounds of epson salt dissolved into it. That much salt and that little water made it thick and slippery… and very irritating if it made it’s way into an eyeball.
During the month of January I was lucky enough to be offered an artist residency at Prana Wellness Center in Astoria, Oregon. The program was simple; Take a dip in the sensory deprivation tank for a 90 minute session, 3 weeks in a row and then create a piece of art based on the experience. I was all about it. Joe Rogan’s podcast has helped float tanks gain popularity over the last few years. That’s where I learned about them and had been wanting to try it out. I’ve expressed my advocation for the use of psychedelics in posts before, and the possibility of having a powerful mind altering experience without the use of drugs was exciting.
Back to my first float… Prana is a cozy little spot in downtown Astoria. When you walk in, there are a ton of awesome succulents in the window front, a comfy couch and chairs with shelves full of crystals and magic potions everywhere. The owner Leigh is a lucky girl, she happened to get her hands on several awesome Blaine Fontana originals that she has spread around the walls. There’s art and prints from other local artists as well. I was led back to the float room where the space ship is, given some basic tips and I was on my own with my thoughts for the next 90 minutes.
A quick shower, earplugs in, and into the space ship I went. The air is humid, and along with the water, it’s at exact skin temperature so you can’t really feel where the air stops and the water starts. I let the hatch close. No more light or sound. I slowly slipped onto my back and spread out in the water. All of a sudden, I felt like I was hurtling and spinning through outer space. It felt similar to vertigo but once the water calmed down the sensation stopped. It’s impossible to sink. There is so much salt in the water that you almost float above it. I must have spent the first 30 minutes just tripping out doing little experiments with buoyancy and getting the hang of the space and which position was the most comfortable to be in. It was harder to relax than I thought it would be. I suck at falling asleep because my brain just has it’s own party non-stop, so shutting down my mind has always been a problem. I hoped that floating around in total darkness and silence in outer space would help me slip away, but it just wasn’t happening. When I finally mellowed out, that’s when a drop of water rolled into my eye. That was not good (see first paragraph) but with enough blinking it eventually it went away. At that point I was kinda over the first float, I just couldn’t chill out and I was getting antsy. I got the little knock that time was up and I was on my way.
When I walked out the door and turned down the street I was literally facing a weed shop (Go Oregon! So proud of you!). I walked in, asked the bud tender for the most relaxing, sleepy, mellow stuff he had, and I brought a beautiful little nugget home. SO sticky, SO stinky and SO much for trying this whole thing sober!
The following week I was determined to have a good float. I did some stretching and breathing before I got there, ate some snacks so I wouldn’t get hungry and made the point that I was going to focus and meditate on art making. So I took a little toke and then proceeded to get my float on.
Let’s just say, the medicine helped. I slipped out of reality in no time. Now that I’d spent 90 minutes the first time investigating the whole tank situation, I was able to relax and drift off to some interesting places. Things turned very introspective at times. And other times I would just get lost down these deep tunnels of thought only to come crashing out of it with giant gasps for air. I saw things. I felt things. I may have figured some things out.
90 minutes went by in what maybe seemed like 20 minutes. I wanted to stay in there for 5 more hours. I now understood what all the hype was about.
I got out, showered and got dressed and felt like I was just floating around. Leigh offered me some tea as I sat on the couch recounting my experience. For the entire rest of the night I was on a cloud.
My 3rd and last float went similar to the 2nd one but not as intense, again, I got a little help from the medicine. It was in this last float that I realized my art piece for this residency was going to be an abstract self portrait in a way. I floated on home and went straight into this painting.
The float experience was amazing, but I was surprised at how much more personal growth came directly from the experience of creating this single piece of art work. Although it make not look like it, I discovered and opened several doors for new techniques and inspirations. One of the things I realized while I was painting, kinda hit me hard. As a working artist, I rarely have time to make art for me. It’s either for a client or a gallery, that’s how life gets paid for. I don’t make art to keep for myself anymore. There was a completely different approach and feeling to know this piece was staying with me. There was something to tap into there that doesn’t happen when I’m normally painting. I’m excited to see where things go.
P.S. – Thanks for the experience Leigh!