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When the angle of the sun is just right in the southeast corner of Janet Saad-Cook's Westover Hills home, you can chart the movement of the earth, unite with your ancestors, take a Rorschach test and bask in the effervescent beauty of pure light. But don't blink; in a moment, everything will change. Saad-Cook's sun drawing, a design made up of pure beams of light reflected onto the wall, is as deceptively simple as the elements it is made of: light and time.
Saad-Cook's obsession with the sun began in the midst of a funk in June 1981 when she saw a crumpled piece of cellophane in an Elizabeth Arden display and thought it was the most beautiful thing she'd ever seen. She drove from her D.C. home to Baltimore to find more of this cellophane, and when she unrolled it in her studio, the room burst into color and light. "It was like being under water and on fire at the same time," she says. "I spent the next year chasing sunlight. I began to see reflected light as a 3D object in and of itself." She started tracing the light on her studio floor, eventually creating a huge geometric equation of rectangles and parallelograms.
Saad-Cook began to adapt metal, glass, special glazes and optical coatings to create interference phenomenon, or the process of blocking out certain wavelengths of light on glass in order to vary the spectrum and reveal pure color. "I see a congruence between the shape of time as measured by sunlight and the shape of light movement in wave path motion," says Saad-Cook. "When I reflect sunlight with a certain solar geometry, I get that congruence."
Since patenting her sun drawing process in 1989, Saad-Cook has taught, lectured and created installations for dozens of individuals, universities, observatories and museums around the world. She is currently working on a sun drawing that she intends to extend across the globe. The first in the series was created at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Haystack Observatory in 1995, and the second at the Boston University Photonics Center in 1997. Maps on the walls in her home show where she plans to install her works next -- along the international dateline, in Singapore, the Middle East and beyond.
Since 1983, she has also devoted herself to in-depth studies of archaeoastronomy, the way ancient people used the sun's interaction with the earth to mark time and create calendars. As a result of her extensive research of sun-marking sites in New Mexico's Chaco Canyon, she has been commissioned by NASA to teach science education workshops for Native American teachers. She is now writing a book about this aspect of the subject. "Archeoastronomy is a source of inspiration for me," says Saad-Cook. "I'm responding to this dynamic: the interaction of earth and sky. At those ancient sun-marking sites, I feel that continuum of earth and sky that connects us all. This is old stuff, but I came to it very intuitively, through the cycle of my art."
You don't have to understand math, history or astronomy to appreciate the beauty of a sun drawing. If you sit still long enough, you can watch brilliant hues of magenta, aquamarine, crimson and tangerine creep across the wall, varying in form and intensity, drawing unseen connections between the angle of the light and the time of day.
"It is experiential art," says Saad-Cook. "I create a situation so that you can have the experience." Visit Janet Saad-Cook on the Web at