BAOLI TABLE, 2014, 2020

An outdoor installation originally at the Sejong Center in Seoul, Korea, from October to November 2014. During World Script Symposia, 26 artists were invited to design interactive installations inspired by approximately 20 world scripts. This work draws from the Indian script devanagari to render an installation like a baoli, or Indian step well.  New Baoli Action Center was created in Denver, with InSite Fund from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

Shaped like an inverted pyramid, a baoli is an Indian step well. People assemble at baolis in order to draw water or to cool down from the heat, but beyond pure utility, they also act as sites of congregation. Like the seemingly endless number of stairs that cross their walls, they hold countless encounters, stories, and legends. Modeled after its namesake, Baoli is thus a dynamic place that cultivates interaction and the exchange of ideas.

Measuring 10 feet by 6 feet, this installation occupies the dimensions of a typical contemporary workspace. However, the use of tables and chairs is traditionally uncommon in India: locals are accustomed to repurposing existing elements in a space to accommodate their forms. A baoli’s steps therefore offer a breadth of possible seating arrangements: elderly folks recline, crouching children play, squatting housewives converse, and girls lean as they do laundry. Clusters emerge, and the community gathering spot takes on a range of functions, whether as storefront, playground, parlor, or workplace. Baoli is likewise comprised of versatile, modular components that can be rearranged as needed.

At the convergence of the installation’s two staircases, a table marked with devenagari reflects the potential outcomes of these social interactions. All spoken languages are lost if not recorded, and devanagari is the script that serves this function in India. The table has organic, henna-like stains listing verbs that articulate the possible activity within the space. As a baoli acts as a vessel to contain communal connections, devanagari is the medium which retains the content of its conversations. 

Video: “POOM/MOP: 품/뫂”, 2020

Directed by Joowon Song, produced by Sammy Lee

Three choreography narratives by Joowon Song, Kate Speer,

and Sammy Lee

Cinematography by Drummond West

Baoli, an installation by Sammy Lee

Baoli installation is funded by the INSITE Fund, an Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts regional regranting program administered by RedLine Contemporary Art Center.  Baoli will travel to various venues throughout Denver and Aurora during 2020 and will include site-specific programming.


With two collaborators - Joowon Song and Kate Speer, we discussed the myriad interpretations of "Poom/품" (upside down of a non-existing word, Mop/뫂, as in the triptych behind Baoli) that resonated with us.  Our introspection of our lives and the word Poom is expressed in our choreographic narrative in the video work.  Joowon, who is a Korean-based choreographer and a film director visiting Denver, shared her Poom- that has to hold so many responsibilities and expectations.  Here, Poom is a personal space that often references to one's capacity.  She wanted to explore freedom and delight while being in her Poom instead of letting go of those life’s matters. Kate, who is a choreographer and dancer, was intrigued by the dual and almost contrasting meanings of Poom - how it means noble yet also another definition paired with the minimal monetary return. Kate's understanding of Poom was her dance practice and pursuit and struggle of being an artist. I, on the other hand, decided to focus on the act of rubbing, and it's yet another meaning, quality, or excellence.  This simple technique of circular hand movement in rubbing still required so many layers of repetition to achieve Poom. Poom also means great effort. It indeed required poom/great attempt to transcend a black inked surface to attain poom/quality.

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