Art Lies, Volume 27, Summer 2000 Page: 80
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Ten + One Illuminations
by Liz Ward
Informed by sacred temple sites in India
and Japan, Margo Sawyer's Ten + One
Illuminations transforms the secular
space of the art gallery into an other-
worldly, contemplative realm. Visitors
enter through a shrouded doorway into a
large, darkened gallery space where they
are immediately confronted by the first
of eleven glowing bowl-like forms ran-
domly arrayed across the floor. Each
form is precisely lit by a strong spotlight,
which makes it appear to hover just
above the ground. The scene, in its total-
ity, suggests some mysterious terrestrial
Unlike some of Sawyer's other
installations, which viewers peered into or
over but were prevented from entering,
this piece draws one in to circumnavigate
the space, and walk among gold-leafed,
concave forms. Subtle variations of sur-
face, color, dimension and shape distin-
guish one form from another. The bowls
range from about two to four feet in
diameter. Some of them are deeply spher-
ical while others are shallow, salver-like
discs. They all have wafer thin edges
(which contributes to their seeming
insubstantiality), and their golden colors
vary from warm to coolish tones.
Minimal yet opulent, delicate yet massive,
these carefully crafted objects are intrigu-
ing in their own right as sculptures apart
from their function in the installation.
Sawyer's use of gold leaf on these
forms, aside from its obvious visual
appeal, contributes layers of meaning to
the piece. Gold is a loaded material, res-
onating with the weight of history. In the
context of South Texas, it calls to mind
the abundant use of gold in Mexican
altarpieces and devotional objects, as well
as the futile quest for the city of gold, El
Dorado, which lured Spanish explorers to
this region in the first place. Gold has tra-
ditionally been revered for its apparent
ability to emit, as well as to reflect, light;
Sawyer plays upon this magical aspect by
making her bowls glow as if with their
own internal energy.
80 ARTLIES SUMMER 2000
Ironically, the grid-
like patterns created by
the squares of gold leaf
on the inside surfaces of
the bowls, in combina-
tion with their concave
shapes, suggest humble
woven baskets. These
"baskets", then, though
physically empty, seem to
be offering up the tran-
scendent substance of
light. Indeed, Sawyer's
work invites viewers to
ponder, if not compre-
hend, several profound dualities: pres-
ence and absence, darkness and light,
sound and silence.
Ten + One Illuminations, although
directly inspired by Asian sources, oper-
ates in the intersection of modern
Western aesthetic thought and Eastern
religious traditions, in which the act of
contemplation facilitates transcendence.
In the 1996 exhibition catalogue,
Negotiating Rapture: The Power of Art to
Transform Lives, by Richard Francis,
scholar Helen Tworkov writes about the
influence of Zen on Ad Reinhardt, Agnes
Martin, John Cage and others. In her cat-
alogue essay, "Spiritual Matters: Zen in
American Art," Tworkov describes these
artists' work as "an invitation to enter a
contemplative space, a space that requires
the mind to slow down, dispense with
commentary, and take on a posture of
receptivity-in other words to assume the
posture of an acolyte." Sawyer's piece-
which, unlike the two-dimensional works
of the cited artists, has the added physical
presence of an installation-invites both
the mind and the body to enter and linger
in that space.
Emerging from Ten + One
Illuminations is a bit like coming out of a
movie in the middle of the afternoon.
We squint our eyes in the glaring light,
and readjust our gaze to the ordinary.
Ten + One Illuminations, 2000
Gold leaf on steel and micro elipse halogen lamps
27" x 34.5" each
Photo: Ansen Seale
Courtesy the artist and ArtPace
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Kalil, Susie & Bryant, John. Art Lies, Volume 27, Summer 2000, periodical, 2000; Houston, Texas. (https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth228057/m1/82/: accessed May 14, 2021), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu; .