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Gallery Hop: Zen and the art of structure and sound
Sami Lee Woolhiser’s installation flows throughout the gallery space.

Friday nights, as usual, present Savannah dwellers with a myriad of artistic events to attend. This time around, the experience extends beyond the visual into a festival of the senses as we are engulfed into a sensorial representation of absolute enlightenment. Last week, Sicky Nar Nar Gallery opened its doors to “Ensō,” an installation by Sami Lee Woolhiser complemented with sound design by Kevin Lee Jr.

Ensō, by the definition provided by the artist, is “a circle that is hand-drawn in one or two uninhibited brushstrokes to express a moment when the mind is free to let the body create.” Under this concept, Woolhiser embarks in the incredible task of creating a physical journey that recreates through art this very intrinsic Zen technique. She carefully extrapolates many possible scenarios in order to fully engulf each visitor in her vision.

Woolhiser has succeeded in creating an ethereal stronghold. The combination of the archways and their circular disposition are subliminal symbols of stability and balance. Spectators feel safe within the structure and are inspired to stay inside of it rather than outside.

The artist explains that the purposeful use of bed sheets as her painting surface give the installation a sense of home and femininity. More than just femininity, she makes emphasis of the quaint experience of running through freshly tended sheets–a symbol to many of motherly care.

The technique she uses on her sheets establishes through color and gradation a strong spiritual bedrock. The sheets change from a radiant blue to white in an organic way, rather than a perfect airbrush finishing. This blue bottom, however, hangs a few inches from the floor. Even though its color and position establish strong footing, it is still a flowing entity, evoking the sense of openness that the artist looks to bestow upon the viewer.

Sicky Nar Nar’s windowed space is a visual treat for the approaching visitor. As the piece itself has been tailored to the physical space of this gallery, Woolhiser has successfully used the space to her advantage, leaving a walkway on the outside of the installation that is proportional to the size of the inner archway. This balance makes the spectator a constant part of the installation, no matter where you are standing.

The gradated hanging fabrics create an universally-pleasing sensation that attracts immediate exploration of the rest of the space. Unlike other installations that make the spectator worry about disturbing the piece, "Ensō" draws you into its center.

The measurements of her arches seem to match, or at least ressemble, those that are used in modern architecture. This piece of information calls upon the visitor’s knowledge of space and immediately recall the structural sturdiness of an arch. To add a deeper layer to the experience, Woolhiser’s work with sound designer Lee allows your auditory and tactual senses to be engaged in the piece. This interactive quality is the cherry on top of the metaphorical sundae. The gallery space is activated in four dimensions, seeing as the sound changes through movement add an element of time.

The experience is left in the hands of the visitor, making them a crucial element in the installation’s success. The way in which the visitor interacts with the hanging fabric defines the intensity, length and oftentimes repetition of a certain sound. The journey within this physical Ensō quickly becomes a shared one—a group sensation of sorts. As people walk through the archways, the sounds interact as well as the visitors. Each combination of guests within the installation create a new song. The experience is continually unique as the combination of sounds changes with all the nuances of whoever is present inside the circle.

Woolhiser’s "Ensō" comes as part of a series of installations exploring similar themes of personal and spiritual exploration. Her previous work, “Passage,” employs similar material and concept but in a smaller, more confined experience.

In her exploration of spirituality and the self, she labels her the steps of her process as “translations.” It is her job as an artist to interpret and reinterpret concepts of representation. Therefore, “translating” this information into experiences to which a spectator can relate.

Sara Lee Woolhiser is currently a painting and sculpture student at the Savannah College of Art and Design. Upon graduation, she plans to return to her home state of California in order to pursue a Master’s degree in Education as she establishes her own independent studio.