Sugar Sweet Theatre Unites Art and Research – University of Copenhagen

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05 September 2017

Sugar Sweet Theatre Unites Art and Research

Exhibition

What happens when art studies research? For the exhibition Sugar Theater artists have created four works of art on sugar in cooperation with researchers from the University of Copenhagen. The result is an unusual exhibition that toys with our knowledge of sugar and explores the space between art and research.

A luxury good. An indispensable ingredient in cooking. One of the body’s main building blocks. Sugar is an important part of our everyday lives – from the sugary powder we put in our coffee to the molecular structures of the human body. The exhibition Sugar Theatre brings focus on sugar through four untraditional works of art linking the art world with research into sugar’s effect on the healthy and sick body. The works are based on a cooperation between Poet and Artist Morten Søndergaard, the curatorial platform the Laboratory for Aesthetics and Ecology and two research groups at the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences: the Copenhagen Center for Glycomics and the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research.

"The research conducted at the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences is ground-breaking and investigative. But what happens when the research is the object being examined – by art? This experiment is at the root of the exhibition Sugar Theater, whose form and content are inspired by research into sugar. The exhibition aims to challenge, to see which new perspectives can emerge from the shared curiosity of artists’ and researchers

Dean Ulla Wewer

‘The research conducted at the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences is ground-breaking and investigative. But what happens when the research is the object being examined – by art? This experiment is at the root of the exhibition Sugar Theater, whose form and content are inspired by research into sugar. The exhibition aims to challenge, to see which new perspectives can emerge from the shared curiosity of artists’ and researchers’ approach to the world, because the faculty is interested in doing a broad study of what it means to be human’, says Dean of the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences Ulla Wewer.

Four Different Acts – from Sugar Opera to Poem Machine
The dominant work of the exhibition is Sugar Choir, where eight opera singers from the Danish Royal Theatre sing texts based on scientific studies on glycomics, which studies the role of sugar as a building block in the human body, and metabolism, which studies biochemical connections in the living organism.

The Sugar Organ consists of several objects made of or related to sugar. The very diverse elements link stories of sugar with society, history and the health and medical sciences and explore the diverse roles of sugar in our world: building blocks in the human body, energy metabolism, a sinful indulgence, a science, a philosophy, a cultural product. 

In Sugar Contact Morten Søndergaard, through the poem Contact, explores parallels between research and poetry. The poem emerges from a cloud, and its form is quite sensational.

The installation Sugar Trees is a dynamic piece, which changes constantly. A poem machine based on adjectives continually borrowed from the news stories brought in the international newspaper The Guardian. Therefore, the tree continues to grow, and its structure resembles the sugar forms found in the body.

"We realised that in many ways the researchers were just as free and transgressive as artists can be – at times perhaps even more open to radical innovation. The fact that the researchers consistently referred to sugar as the ‘third language of the body’ was almost too good to be true, because for many years we had grappled with questions regarding the relationship between language and organic bodies, and then the researchers arrived with this huge gift of introducing sugar as an internal system of communication, a kind of bodily intranet

Poet and artist Morten Søndergaard

’We realised that in many ways the researchers were just as free and transgressive as artists can be – at times perhaps even more open to radical innovation. The fact that the researchers consistently referred to sugar as the ‘third language of the body’ was almost too good to be true, because for many years we had grappled with questions regarding the relationship between language and organic bodies, and then the researchers arrived with this huge gift of introducing sugar as an internal system of communication, a kind of bodily intranet’, says Poet and Artist Morten Søndergaard.

Morten Søndergaard’s collaborators are also fascinated by the stories of sugar.

‘We wanted to interweave a lot of different stories about sugar: the scientific, the historical and the artistic. And we were fascinated by the duality of sugar, which on the one hand makes us sick and on the other represents some of the main building blocks of the body. The two different research teams represented this duality’, say Dea Antonsen and Ida Bencke from the curatorial platform the Laboratory for Aesthetics and Ecology, which functioned as a sounding board and co-organiser of the exhibition.

Research Revitalised by Art
The cooperation between researchers and artists has focussed on differences and similarities between the attempts of science and art to know and articulate our reality. Through these works concepts from the world of science are revitalised by art’s presentation of, for example, the exploration of the branching of sugar molecules. The exhibition thus displays the creative space where researchers and artists meet and are united by their curiosity and interest in exploring and articulating.

"It has been an interesting meeting between art and the basic sciences – two worlds which in peculiar ways both enjoy exploring the state of affairs. It has been fun to see how various methods can be applied towards the same target of getting closer to the truth

Professor Hans Wandall

’It has been an interesting meeting between art and the basic sciences – two worlds which in peculiar ways both enjoy exploring the state of affairs. It has been fun to see how various methods can be applied towards the same target of getting closer to the truth’, says Professor Hans H. Wandall from the Center for Glycomics, who has cooperated with the artists on Sugar Theater.

Professor Thue W. Schwartz from the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research has also contributed to the cooperation, and he also recognises the new dimensions of the untraditional cooperation:

"It has been incredibly inspiring to work together with the young artists and to see how they have managed to transform our perhaps slightly ‘fusty’, ‘intimate’ basic research and create surprisingly interesting and beautiful new dimensions and reflections. We should definitely do more cross-disciplinary work – not just within the natural sciences, but all the way to the creative art forms

Professor Thue Schwartz

'It has been incredibly inspiring to work together with the young artists and to see how they have managed to transform our perhaps slightly ‘fusty’, ‘intimate’ basic research and create surprisingly interesting and beautiful new dimensions and reflections. We should definitely do more cross-disciplinary work – not just within the natural sciences, but all the way to the creative art forms’, Thue W. Schwartz adds. 

Information About the Exhibition

  • Date: The exhibition opens on Thursday 7 September 2017 and runs until June 2018.
  • Place: Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, Blegdamsvej 3B, 2200 Copenhagen N, Vandrehallen Building 1.
  • Opening hours: Monday-Friday 9:00-17:00.

The exhibition is rendered possible by funding from the Novo Nordisk Foundation. The Sugar Choir is funded by the Danish Arts Foundation.

More about Sugar Theater

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