Brendan Jamison name









University of Lisbon

Interview with sculptor Brendan Jamison

2 May 2018



About the interviewer:

Ana Albuquerque Antunes was born in 1978 in Lisbon, Portugal. She graduated in Fine Arts - Painting in 2002 at the Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Lisbon. In the following years she worked in contemporary art galleries, being always in contact with the new art tendencies. At present, Ana is developing a research work of academic scope, within the MSc program on Conservation, Restoration and Production of Contemporary Art, at the Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Lisbon (Portugal). The theme she is developing is “Sugar - New Challenge for the Conservator Restorer in Preserving the Constituent Materials of Contemporary Art”.

Currently, the artist and the conservator are seen as a team, since both have as a common objective to preserve the work of art, in its physical status and/or idea. Together, they try to find the best solutions.

Ana Albuquerque Antunes: First of all, it is a privilege to do this interview. Thank you for your availability and kindness.


1. Ana Albuquerque Antunes: You got your Master's Degree in Fine Arts in 2004. At that time, were you already working with sugar? When did the idea of working with sugar come up?

Brendan Jamison:  Hello Ana, thank you for arranging this interview. Your research topic is refreshing, original and extremely relevant to the contemporary art world. I began experimenting with sugar cubes in October 2003 during the final year of my Master of Fine Art course. The early sculptures were very small but I managed to develop a pioneering technique of carving the cubes. This was something that had never been done before.

2. Ana Albuquerque Antunes: When did the partnership with Mark Revels show up, and what role does each of you play in the collaboration?


Brendan Jamison: Since 2009, I have been employing assistants for the large scale sculpture commissions. In 2013, a project at the Ulster Museum in Belfast required a team of 5 sculptors. Mark Revels was one of the team I hand-picked at this time. His skills were exceptional, not only in the handling of the material but also through his high levels of spatial awareness, strong imagination and excellent inter-personal skills. After this Sugar Metropolis project in Belfast, I asked him to work with me as a collaborator on other large-scale projects around the world. Commission requests are regularly received to my studio every week from all across the planet so I pick the most interesting and then discuss these with Mark and we begin brain-storming ideas for the project. We divide the tasks in half. I make the most intricate architectural carvings and Mark specialises in science-based structures such as biological forms. Our brains are very similar so we know what each other are thinking without even speaking so it is a very special working relationship.

3. Ana Albuquerque Antunes: What influences have played a role in the choice of sugar as the constituent material of the works? 

Brendan Jamison: Firstly, the sugar cube is like a miniature brick so it is ideal for creating detailed architectural structures as the cubes can be built in rows, one on top of the other. However, it is also extremely versatile in terms of being carved into domes and spheres or for the sculpting of vehicles and animals. Secondly, the magical sparkle of the sugar crystals allows for a beautiful surface quality. Thirdly, since the second half of the 20th Century, the white cube has been the model for creating art galleries. Therefore everyone in the art world has a white cube embedded in their subconscious, either to exhibit work within the cube or to rebel against it and find alternative spaces. Fourthly, sugar offers a multi-sensory experience. The viewer does not only view the sculpture but they can imagine the sugar dissolving on their tongue. Fifthly, the shape of the cube as a brick makes reference to a male dominated construction industry. However, the material of sugar and the colour white makes reference to femininity. Therefore I get excited by creating sculptures which can engage multiple genders and hint towards an exploration of androgynous aesthetics. 

4. Ana Albuquerque Antunes: When you started using sugar, did you feel the need to research the properties and characteristics of this material? If so, what were the main things you learned about it?

Brendan Jamison: One of the most interesting facts is that there are over 600,000 sugar crystals in a single cube. This is quite magical. No matter how much a cube is carved, the light can still glisten on the surface. I visited several sugar museums, the most impressive was in Berlin. They had cubes on display from over 100 years ago, perfectly preserved in glass display cases. However, when working with any material, it is necessary for a sculptor to conduct experiments as well as theoretical research. One of my practical tests was to pour water over 3 small sugar dome sculptures, each of similar scale to a mandarin orange. This experiment was to analyse the time and process for the destruction of the cubes and the behaviour of the adhesive. Using a watering can, with the sculptures sitting in a deep tray, it took over 5 minutes to dissolve the sugar, however, the adhesive remained intact, appearing like a skeleton in the tray.


5. Ana Albuquerque Antunes: In your institutions where you have been studying, have you been in contact with conservation and restoration of contemporary art?

Brendan Jamison: No, but conservation and restoration is of great importance to me. 

6. Ana Albuquerque Antunes: When you devise and concretise your works, at some point in the process are the issues of conservation and durability of the works taken into account?

Brendan Jamison: Yes. The issue of conservation and durability is one of the first issues discussed with clients who wish to commission a carved sugar cube sculpture. As soon as the dimensions are agreed, I send the order through for a clear plastic display case to be fabricated and a wooden base to be constructed. The completed sculpture is then stuck to the wooden base and the display case slots into place. This prevents dust and insects from spoiling the surface of the sculpture. The artwork remains protected and the adhesive, which absorbs into the granules, ensures the form will remain permanent. 

7. Ana Albuquerque Antunes: Sugar is a constant material in your work. Why? Does it have any symbolic meaning or is it just a material like any other?

Brendan Jamison: Answer number 3 covers the symbolic meaning in terms of the white cube as a gallery space embedded in the subconscious and the issue of androgynous aesthetics. In addition, sugar is a very therapeutic material to work with. It is certainly not the only material I employ in my art practice but it is a favourite which has captured the imagination of people all across the world. Therefore the material offers a beautiful cross-cultural appeal and excites people of all ages. It is something very accessible because almost everyone knows the taste of sugar and will have seen sugar cubes in supermarkets or restaurants. It is important to have a material which people can connect to in real life, this is something that bronze can never do because the majority of the public will never be in a foundry to pour bronze so their emotional connection to a material like sugar can be far deeper. Sugar consumption is also becoming a major health concern worldwide so it can be viewed as dangerous but also seductively beautiful. The ability for art to cross-pollinate with medical science is a particular joy and I now find myself doing more and more sculptures to raise awareness about diabetes.  

8. Ana Albuquerque Antunes: Are the constructions you make all planned or can they arise spontaneously during the assembly of the cubes?

Brendan Jamison: There are two types of sugar cube sculpture projects. The first is where I am commissioned to make a specific building or object and it is preserved in a display case for permanence. This requires careful planning so it rarely offers the opportunity for spontaneous sculpting. However, the second type is the interactive format such as Sugar Metropolis or Sugar Democracy. These are large-scale installations bursting with spontaneous approaches and continuous play and experimentation. Mark and I usually spend a month creating original sculptures for the centre of the installation and this can spark the imagination of the public when they arrive at the gallery or museum. There are half a million sugar cubes available for the audience to construct their own free-standing sculptures to be displayed alongside Mark's and my own. This is a very exciting approach to art-making because we can have thousands of participants and it results in a style of hybrid architecture with so many collaborators. The sculptural forms can evolve over the course of the exhibition as some structures collapse and others are built in their place. 

9. Ana Albuquerque Antunes: How do you plan an exhibition? Do you make models, drawings, schemes? 

Brendan Jamison: We plan the exhibitions through initial sketches and sometimes small scale models. However, it is necessary to keep the process fluid enough to respond to the actual exhibition venue once we arrive to start the project. Therefore the general idea is already agreed upon but we work the specifics around the interior architecture of the space and attempt to disrupt or alter the perception of the space or the structural features of the gallery. For the large projects, we often have at least 200 sculpture elements to plot throughout the gallery so I often think of it like an orchestra, with all the forms needing to complement each other within the overall composition. We also have to plan the route the audience will take through the installation so we have to plan multiple focal points, especially when there can be more than one entrance into a gallery.

10. Ana Albuquerque Antunes: You have done public sugar cube building workshops. What do you teach and what do you not teach trainees?

Brendan Jamison: There are three types of sugar cube sculptures. The trainees are taught the first method of how to create free-standing sugar cube sculptures in a stable fashion. I usually demonstrate three examples, how to build a round tower, a house and a human figure. Once they practice the basics during the first 10 minutes, I then encourage all the participants to use their imagination to create their own ideas. I then assist the participants to realise their dreams with the material. And so what is not taught? The second method is sculpture made with adhesive and the third method is carved sugar cube sculptures. 


11. Ana Albuquerque Antunes: You say that you have developed your own technique to carve the sugar. What is this technique and what materials do you use?

Brendan Jamison: I use hand held blades to carve each cube individually and then, once the desired shape has been achieved, it gets stuck to the other cubes in the sculpture. It is a slow process and takes years of practice. Sometimes only one in ten cubes will carve into the shape I want. Many cubes are discarded in the process. Of course the success of the sculptures is not just through (a) the technique of carving, it is also through (b) the selection of the strongest brand of sugar cube and (c) the type of adhesive and (d) the method for applying the glue. 

12. Ana Albuquerque Antunes: In October 2009, Miles Erwin wrote for London's Metro newspaper: "To hold the blocks together Jamison uses a special glue which is absorbed into the sugar" and you said: "The process involves considerable patience and intense concentration." What glue do you use to join the sugar cubes and how do you apply it?

Brendan Jamison: The adhesive is poured into a small hand-held bottle and applied to all sides of the cube which are hidden from view. All exposed surfaces are free of adhesive to avoid any colour staining. This allows the sugar crystals on the surface to sparkle without any interference from the glue. It takes 24 hours for the adhesive to create a permanent binding between the cubes therefore the sculptures have to be built up row by row, from the ground up. 

13. Ana Albuquerque Antunes: Have you tested with other glues? What were the results?


Brendan Jamison: Yes, many glues are very weak and the cubes crack apart during testing. If an adhesive is too watery, it melts the cubes and prevents binding. We also do regular stability tests on sugar cubes in each new country we visit. 

14. Ana Albuquerque Antunes: Do you build structures that are made only with sugar or have some interior structure with other material that supports them?

Brendan Jamison: The sculptures are made entirely from sugar. We only use supports for packaging the sculptures for transport from our studio HQ to other countries.

15. Ana Albuquerque Antunes: Brian McAvera said in Sculpture magazine, in May 2011: “According to Jamison, carving sugar cubes is quite difficult. What might look like an exercise in Lego building is rather more complicated. The scale of the project required him to use different brands, and he found, to his consternation, that they were not all the same size, and some were more responsive to carving than others”. Do you choose only one brand of sugar or several blends in the same work? What brand of sugar do you use most often?

Brendan JamisonWhere possible we try to source the strongest brand of sugar cubes in whichever country we are doing a project. For example, for the Sugar Democracy exhibition in Kiev during September to October 2016, we travelled to Ukraine in January 2016 to do tests on the different brands of sugar cubes. Some cubes are flat and square-shaped, while others are long and rectangular. The best type of shape depends on the type of sculpture being made. For the London Festival of Architecture in 2010, I used two different British brands of cubes, the smaller cubes for the Tate Modern sculpture and the larger cubes for the NEO Bankside skyscrapers. 

16. Ana Albuquerque Antunes: Do you buy sugar or get sponsorship? 

Brendan Jamison:  For sculptures to be made at my studio in Belfast, I buy bulk orders of sugar cubes, over a million cubes at a time. However, for overseas projects, the commissioning client usually purchases the cubes or a sugar company sponsors the project and provides all the cubes.

17. Ana Albuquerque Antunes: Did you try other sugars, such as brown sugar in cubes? 

Brendan Jamison: Firstly, brown sugar does not have the same sparkle as white cubes. When white cubes are soaked in food dye, they also lose their glistening effect. Secondly, and most importantly, white is the best colour to highlight ornate surface details because white creates the strongest shadow. This is why almost all architects use white models and why old marble sculptures still remain very popular today. 

18. Ana Albuquerque Antunes: Have you ever tried making your own sugar cubes?

Brendan JamisonNo, it is not necessary. I can already buy exactly what I need and it is important that the cube I use is the exact same as what an ordinary person will purchase in a shop. The audience must have a connection with the material. It has to be accessible. Therefore the idea of casting my own cubes in different sizes would create a barrier between the artwork and the audience. It would remove the humble nature of the supermarket sugar cube. 


19. Ana Albuquerque Antunes: Are your works thought and made for a specific exhibition space, or are they adapted later?

Brendan JamisonFor the large-scale installation projects, the sculptures are almost always site-specific to that particular exhibition space. The size and design of the forms will be influenced by the space and also the history/culture/architecture of the country.

20. Ana Albuquerque Antunes: Could sugar-based work be exposed in outer space? 

Brendan Jamison: This is a very intelligent question. No-one has ever asked this before. It is fascinating to ponder such a scenario. However, it would depend where in outer space the sugar cube sculpture was placed as there are many variations. For example, if we take the moon which has virtually no atmosphere, if the sculpture is placed on the sunlit side, it could be exposed to heat of up to 120 degrees Celsius, but on the dark side of the moon, the temperature could drop to as low as minus 170 degrees Celsius. Therefore tests on Earth would need to be conducted on the effects of such extreme temperature on sugar cubes and the adhesive. However, the effects of intense heat can already be predicted based on a previous event. In 2010, a sugar cube sculpture in Florida endured 4 hours without air-conditioning and the temperature increased to 50 degrees Celsius. The sculpture became soggy but when the air conditioner was re-activated, the sugar cubes solidified again and the artwork returned to its original state. Therefore at exposure of 120 degrees Celsius, we can predict the sculpture will rapidly lose its structure. 

21. Ana Albuquerque Antunes: The work is usually done only by you and Mark Revels, or do you have more assistants?

Brendan Jamison:  Yes. Mark and I are the only two sculptors who do the carved sugar cube sculptures but within every installation, there are many elements which only require sticking the cubes together. I have trained many assistants to undertake these tasks over the years. In 2014, on a commission for a film company in Los Angeles, we had a total of 6 assistants working on the project. In September 2016, we held a 2 week 'School of Sugar Cube Sculpture' in Ukraine. It featured a group of architecture students, each of whom brought fresh ideas to the medium. We exhibited their completed works at Izolyatsia Art Foundation in Kiev. The most talented students were Kateryna Tsyhykalo, Lera Pavlova, Igor Steshyn, Sonya Rohmanijko and Julia July.

22. Ana Albuquerque Antunes: Often in your exhibitions the public is invited to participate and make their own constructions. What are the main problems associated with conservation of the work that can appear with this approach of the public?

Brendan Jamison: We usually plot the largest and most intricate sculptures in the centre of the installation and protect them by a surrounding perimeter of smaller sculptures. The outer section is then interactive for the public to engage with. When sculptures get damaged or completely knocked over, it will not affect the core of the installation. By its nature, interactive sculpture installations will result in demolitions and this is exciting as we witness an evolution of the project every day. When something is broken, new sculptures are built in its place in a similar fashion to how cities evolve over time. Sometimes we can have as many as 5,000 participants and over 75,000 viewers for a single project so that type of scale is very enjoyable to work with. We love the challenge of striking a balance between the elements that need conserved and the elements which can mutate. 

23. Ana Albuquerque Antunes: Do you consider that the art you make in sugar is ephemeral? 

Brendan JamisonThe carved sugar cube sculptures are definitely permanent. They will not deteriorate while protected under a display case. The interactive installations are ephemeral. However, even with these, the central core of sculptures will usually enter the permanent collection of the museum/corporate client/sponsor after the exhibition has ended. 

24. Ana Albuquerque Antunes: What do you think is the point of view of museums or collectors in an art of short physical durability?

Brendan Jamison: With sugar museums displaying exhibits of sugar lumps and sugar loaves from over 100 years ago, it proves that under the appropriate conditions, the physical durability can be maintained. In general terms, speaking beyond the medium of sugar, museums can offer wonderful exhibitions which feature artworks of short physical durability, such as organic artworks which feature plants and flowers.

25. Ana Albuquerque Antunes: You have many sculptures on permanent display, like: The Teacher’s House (Ukraine), Sugar America (California), Number 10 (Prime Minister’s home at 10 Downing Street), The Ulster Tower (Wray Gallery, Belfast), Bangor Castle Town Hall (North Down Museum). Usually, what are the main difficulties associated with the assembly and/or exposure of the works?

Brendan Jamison: The sculptures in display cases do not have any difficulties with exposure. Sometimes, the weight of the larger sculptures can require 4 people to lift each piece and then the case is set down over the sculpture in the gallery/museum.  

26. Ana Albuquerque Antunes: Your art is housed in many significant public and corporate collections across the globe: MoMA in NY, Southern Food and Beverage Museum in New Orleans, The Arts Council of Northern Ireland in Belfast, Creative Crossover China in Beijing, Royal Ulster Academy of Arts, John Erickson Museum of Art in Florida USA, California State University, and many more. What are the main conditions and particularities that an institution must have for the correct exhibition of such a work?

Brendan Jamison: The conditions are similar to standard works of art - comfortable room temperature and reinforced pedestals for heavy sculptures. However, with the heavier pieces, I tend to have the pedestal fabricated and included with the commission for the client. I believe it is the responsibility of the sculptor to ensure the entire sculpture, the case and the pedestal are easy to assemble or dismantle should the museum or client wish to move the artwork. It is about maintaining the highest levels of professionalism to ensure a smooth efficiency in all aspects of installation and conservation. 


27. Ana Albuquerque Antunes: Are sugar works made in situ, or are they made in the studio and then transported to the exhibition?

Brendan Jamison: Almost all the intricate carved sculptures are created in my Belfast studio and transported overseas to the exhibition venue. In some cases, Mark and I will carve pieces in situ, however, this is quite rare because it is very time-consuming. Therefore we make all the most important elements in the months leading up to an exhibition. Also, for press purposes, it is necessary to have our professional photographer document the sculptures at least one month before an exhibition opening. 

28. Ana Albuquerque Antunes: You said to Amanda Poole of Belfast Telegraph in August 2011: “I keep the studio very clean and there are no drinks allowed! Once commissions are complete they are covered in cases, so that prevents damage.” What are the main cares you have when working with sugar in your studio?

Brendan Jamison: It is important to keep the studio free of food to prevent insects wandering in and damaging exposed sugar surfaces. The space also needs to be kept clean to avoid dust blowing onto the surface of the sculpture during the making process. Therefore at the end of each day, the studio is cleaned. All the sugar dust and fragments of the cubes are brushed up. The carving process can see parts of the cube propelled several metres in the air so all of these fragments need to be swept up. 

29. Ana Albuquerque Antunes: When you have to pack a work, whether it is to keep, or to carry, how and with what material do you do it?

Brendan Jamison: For the large sculptures, purpose built wooden crates are created. Sheets of polystyrene line the inside of the box. 3 layers of bubble-wrap are snugly wrapped around the plastic display case and wooden base. This prevents any movement of display case. The sculpture remains safely inside the display case, with a distance of at least 5 cm from the edge of the plastic. 

30. Ana Albuquerque Antunes: You have completed a 3 month sculpture tour, exhibiting at 15 venues across the USA. You created Sugar America, a giant sugar cube sculpture which maps iconic buildings, state symbols and animals from across the country. Can you explain all this process? Assembly, dismantling, packaging, transportation ... How was all this done and what were the main problems you encountered? 

Brendan Jamison: For the Sugar America project, Mark and I assembled each element of the sculpture ourselves. It takes 180 minutes for each set-up and 90 minutes for dismantling. We transported all the sculptures in our tour bus. The sculptures were wrapped in bubble-wrap and set inside polystyrene packing boxes with handles. We did encounter some minor damage to a couple of the smaller sculptures when unpacking them. However, we had our tools with us at all times and completed the repairs within 5-10 minutes. One of the sculptures on our workshop table on the bus also suffered slight damage when the driver slammed on the brakes too fast and it flew forward. It took 30 minutes to repair this artwork. 


31. Ana Albuquerque Antunes: When you have a commission, what is usually the purpose? That the work is to be permanent, or that it is for a temporary exhibition after which it will be destroyed?

Brendan JamisonMost commissions are for clients who want a permanent sculpture. It is placed in a plastic case and usually remains on permanent display. The commissions for large-scale interactive sugar cube projects are temporary. At the end of the exhibition, the hundreds of free-standing elements are destroyed. Only the pieces which Mark and I have stuck together will remain. These are usually donated to the project funder or a local museum.

32. Ana Albuquerque Antunes: For example, at the Sugar Metropolis, for the Pompidou Center, Paris? Is the work dismantled and stored? Is the work destroyed?

Brendan JamisonSugar Metropolis in Paris was only a 6 week temporary exhibition therefore the Pompidou Centre dismantled the work at the end. It was not stored. 

33. Ana Albuquerque Antunes: Is it worrisome for you that works that have been acquired by individuals or institutions may not be properly stored and that this leads to their deterioration?

Brendan JamisonYes, it did concern me at the beginning of my career because I felt out of control but I learned how to let go. All I can do is advise the institutions and private collectors and to provide all the support I can through the highest levels of professionalism. Beyond that, there is nothing more that any artist can do. I always make it clear that I will repair sculptures if they get damaged by a museum or art collector but over the past 14years, after over 200 exhibitions, it has only ever happened twice. Therefore damages of only 1% is a good figure I can live with.

34. Ana Albuquerque Antunes: When the works are acquired do you usually give specific indications and advice for their preservation? If yes, what do you advise?

Brendan Jamison:  Yes, I advise the plastic display case is always kept secure to the wooden base. An anti-static cloth should be used to wipe the display case. For large heavy works, when the sculpture is to be moved within the museum, it should be separated into three sections, the display case, the sculpture and the pedestal. For moving a large sculpture externally, the display case should be secured tightly to the wooden base with multiple layers of bubble-wrap. Ideally, the sculpture should then be slid into a wooden crate, lined with polystyrene. The crate should be rolled very gently on a trolley and wedged securely in the delivery van. 

35. Ana Albuquerque Antunes: Have you ever had any problems of specific deterioration in your works made of sugar? If yes, due to: fragility of the set, characteristics of the materials used, incorrect handling, irresponsible storage,...?

Brendan JamisonFor a project in London in 2012 at West Norwood Cemetery, the sugar cube sculpture of Sir Henry Tate's Mausoleum arrived with a broken display case. The delivery company had broken the display case when lifting the artwork and when the case was dislodged, it damaged an edge of the sculpture during transit. Obviously, the insurance company covered the cost to replace the display case and I was already on hand to install the sculpture so I was able to spend 2 hours repairing the damage by removing the broken cubes and carving new blocks to replace them. To date, I have never encountered any problems from clients storing the sculptures irresponsibly. Because of the uniqueness of carved sugar cube sculptures and because of the months of work involved in the creation of the commissions, the costs are usually very high so the clients tend to respect the value of the sculptures and take great care to protect them. 

36. Ana Albuquerque Antunes: Have you ever had any problems with pests, insects or other situations? If so, what did you do?

Brendan Jamison: The low level odour from the adhesive usually repels insects. However, sometimes in the studio when a sculpture surface is left exposed overnight, an insect can eat a small part, leaving a tiny brown stain on the cube. The block has to be carved out and replaced with a new cube. But thankfully this is extremely rare and once the sculpture is placed inside the plastic display case, this problem never occurs.

37. Ana Albuquerque Antunes: The whiteness of the sugar and its sparkling, reflective qualities, seem to be something important in your work. Can these sugar characteristics be lost over time? Do you have an example that you want to mention?

Brendan Jamison: As long as the sculpture is protected within a display case, the sugar crystals will continue to sparkle and there will be no colour alteration to the whiteness of the sugar. Sugar sculptures exposed without a display case for more than a year, will darken from a layer of dust forming on the surface. However, small brushes can clean the sculptures. Also, a little device that blows air onto the surface can clean off the layers of dust and restore the surface of the cube.   

38. Ana Albuquerque Antunes: Can conservation status influence the meaning of the work? 

Brendan Jamison:  Meaning surrounding an artwork is always fluid. The associations that a viewer will make when standing in front of a sculpture can depend on so many different aspects of their background – ranging from their cultural, spiritual and political leanings to their age, gender, sexual orientation and profession. As an example, when I did an art project in India in 2006, I delivered a talk on the associations of materials and colours in my home country of Ireland. But the audience in New Delhi had completely different relationships with the same material and the colour symbolisms. This is what fascinates me more than anything else in the art world. There are so many levels of meaning around every material and every sculptural form. And I love to chat to the audience to receive feedback on the sculptures to hear everything they bring to the artwork because their perspectives on finding meaning in the artwork is equal to my own. There is no hierarchy, we simply have multiple interpretations, and the more levels of meaning and the more associations, the greater the work of contemporary art.

So, can conservation status influence a meaning? Yes. But so too can many other factors, including the actual place where the artwork is exhibited. For example, the sculpture inside 10 Downing Street in London has received critical acclaim in terms of the historical relationship between power and slavery. While this represents one of the darkest periods in humanity, it is forever a part of the material of sugar and we cannot shy away from this. Also, in the UK, since the Victorian era, there has always been a symbiotic relationship between art and sugar because a wealthy sugar merchant called Henry Tate (1819-1899) was a giant art collector in the 19th Century. In 1897 he bequeathed his vast art collection to the nation and poured £100,000 into the building of the first Tate Gallery. Now four Tate museums exist across the UK and attract a global audience, with Tate Modern receiving the most visitors of any contemporary art museum in the world. Another example is the 2016 American tour project to raise awareness about diabetes. That sculpture installation now resides in the lobby of the global headquarters of Abbott Diabetes Care in California so within that context, the associations with medical science come to the fore. Meanwhile in a gallery or museum setting, the emphasis of meaning will likely focus more on my pursuit of androgynous aesthetics and the cross-pollination of art, history and architecture.    

39. Ana Albuquerque Antunes: What do you think can happen with the aging of the materials used (sugar and glue)?

Brendan Jamison: In the domestic setting of a kitchen, if we examine a bowl filled with loose sugar granules, what occurs after one week? The natural moisture in the air makes the loose granules solidify into a clump. The same is true with the sugar cube sculptures, I have found the binding between the cubes actually strengths in time. Therefore I remain confident that the aging process will not cause deterioration to the artwork. 

40. Ana Albuquerque Antunes: According to your artistic intention about the work, would you agree with the replacement of degraded sugar cubes? If so, does the substitution have to be by sugar cubes as well, or can it be by other compatible material?

Brendan Jamison: Yes, it is imperative that damaged cubes are replaced with new sugar cubes to maintain the purity of the material and the uniform aesthetic.

41. Ana Albuquerque Antunes: Have you ever restored or participated in a restoration of one of your works? 

Brendan Jamison: Yes, I have undertaken several restoration tasks to replace broken cubes with new sugar cubes. It is not an overly complicated process but does require patience and precision. The damaged cube is carved out in a similar fashion to a dentist removing a tooth from a patient’s mouth. A new cube is then carved and stuck into place. I am a perfectionist so it has to look completely seamless. Once the restoration is complete, the artwork looks identical to its original state.

42. Ana Albuquerque Antunes: What is the degree of intervention that you think is most appropriate for your works: none, mere conservation or replacement of elements?

Brendan Jamison: Replacement of elements is of paramount importance otherwise the flow of composition will be disrupted. However, it takes years of training to be accomplished enough to carve sugar cubes to the level required for a restoration task therefore at present only Mark Revels and myself undertake these roles. The top secret nature of the pioneering technique also remains with the Belfast studio team so at present, a museum’s restoration department will not have the knowledge of the tools, the method, the brand of cube or the adhesive. However, we may film confidential instructional videos for future use by museums for scenarios where it is not possible for my sculpture team to undertake the restoration ourselves.    


43. Ana Albuquerque Antunes: Do you know other artists who also use sugar as a medium? Who are they?

Brendan Jamison: When I began working with sugar cubes back in 2003, I conducted extensive research to find other artists who used the same material. I could only find one artist, American Tom Friedman (1965-). He created a small sugar cube man in 1999. The sculpture measures 120 cm in height and Friedman describes the work as a self-portrait. It was the only time he ever used sugar cubes and, because he had not carved the blocks, the pixelated aesthetic looks like a Lego construction. Interestingly, when we look at the floor we notice a beautiful aura of loose granules radiating out from the figure. This spontaneous element is a gentle counter-play to the control and rigidity of the figure itself.  

And more recently in 2014, another American artist, Kara Walker (1969-), used 330 blocks of styrofoam to create a giant sphinx which was coated in multiple layers of sugar. It was displayed at the abandoned Domino Sugar Refinery in Brooklyn, New York. However, due to the summer heat, the sugar melted and poured onto the floor. In fact, many of the sugar sculptures were destroyed during the fabrication stage and in the end, only the large sphinx and two small sugar works survived for the opening. They gradually deteriorated throughout the exhibition. But it was an exciting time in New York because Mark and I were setting up a Sugar Metropolis at a new museum in the Sugar Hill area of Manhattan so the media were enjoying all the sugar related art to cover in the press. 

44. Ana Albuquerque Antunes: What have you been working on lately? 

Brendan Jamison: In an educational capacity which combines art, architecture and medical science, we will be doing another 2018 sculpture tour in America to promote awareness about sugar and diabetes. We will be visiting different states from last year's tour so it will remain fresh and exciting. September 2018 will see another project in Kiev, but not with sugar this time, it will be be a giant paper sculpture.

45. Ana Albuquerque Antunes: You have already done exhibitions in several places: Scotland, Wales, England, France, Germany, Austria, Sweden, Italy, America, Canada, New Zealand, India and China. I know that Portugal is a small country, and by many unknown, but will we have the privilege of hosting an exhibition?

Brendan Jamison: I have travelled to Portugal on vacation. It has a beautiful coastline and enjoys much more sunshine than Ireland! It would be wonderful do a project in Lisbon in the future. It is always exciting to work in a new country as Mark and I love to learn about different cultures and we really enjoy the thrill of meeting new creative people. So hopefully in the future, we will be invited to Portugal to bring along a little sugar magic and sparkle.    













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