Last Friday night Sicky Nar Nar gallery hosted the opening of Sami Lee Woolhiser’s exhibit Enso. The show was comprised of a single work of art: a fabric installation, the second in a series of “passages” Woolhiser has created. About 45 sheets of fabric hung in a circle (the bottoms of the fabric floated several inches off the floor), creating a circular passageway. Atonal music made up of the sounds of water dripping, wind-chimes, and soft rustling played in the background.
It was a kinetic, experiential artwork that encouraged visitors to stroke the fabric as they walked through, their touch moving the piece in an undulating tide that circled around to greet the next person. In a short conversation, Woolhiser revealed that the fabric she used is actually twin-sized bedsheets which she chose for their familiar, comforting quality. During our chat, the artist mentioned that she wanted to evoke the childhood memory of running through drying sheets on a clothesline; she seems interested in overlapping images of domesticity and of nature, including the glacial ice caves that the dip-dyed white-to-blue fabric is so reminiscent of. Whatever the mind conjured up inside of Enso – it was all wrapped up in feelings of intimacy and calm.
The experience of engaging with this work was entirely meditative. The arrangement of the piece suggested a form of walking meditation: you follow behind the patron in front of you, adapting to their pace as you slowly walk in a circle. Some people chose to walk in a straight line, bisecting the piece and disrupting the flow, but inside of Enso everything seemed permissible. The piece asked little of the viewer, it was merely an invitation into a peaceful, endless space. The stacked fabrics floated inches off the ground like thin veils, quivering diaphanously in the slight breeze that came through the gallery door. A tree in a wooden planter stood in the center. It might have been easy to imagine oneself in a monastery somewhere in the forest if not for the tiled gallery floor and (unfortunately) visible PVC armature.
The work was complimented by atonal music from Kevin Lee, Jr., which Woolhiser told me was interactive. She claimed that the chimes, water drips and ethereal clinks of Lee Jr.’s composition were corresponding to the movements of visitors inside the installation. When asked where the sensors were located Woolhiser refused to say. “That’s a secret,” she said. Either way, the music helped round out the trance-like reverie the piece attempted to create.
As a conceptual work of art (a la Christo’s The Gates) Enso was aesthetically engaging from the perspective of both the viewer and the participant. But its success was ultimately limited by the space it was housed in. It is my opinion that the work might have been more effective in a space better prepared to create an atmosphere appropriate to Woolhiser’s vision. It is unfortunate that Sicky Nar Nar failed to seize the opportunity to coalesce here; a change in lighting, for example, could have made a significant difference. Why not use the uber-hip mason jars hung from the focalized tree to create ambient lighting? Why not hold off on the coffee sales for an evening in favor of an environment free from the intrusion of those transactions? I applaud the gallery for exhibiting Woolhiser’s refreshing work (god knows it’s nice to see an installation in Savannah!) but I question their prioritization of the art itself. What does Sicky Nar Nar want to be? A gallery? A coffee shop? A yoga studio? A venue?
As a result, the effectiveness of the piece on its audience was indeterminable. Enso was engaging aesthetically (though a second incarnation with a concealed armature would be a welcome improvement) but failed to provide lasting sustenance as an artwork. Woolhiser is obviously a young artist with extraordinary promise and creativity. I hope that her next offering is as ambitious experientially as it is conceptually.