By GAUTAMA MEHTA
Visitors to the lobby of La Rabida Children’s Hospital on Thursday, June 22, were greeted by a strange, futuristic cityscape which revealed itself, upon closer inspection, to be a collection of sculptures made entirely of sugar cubes. The sculptors, a pair of genial Irishmen named Mark Revels and Brendan Jamison, were on hand to explain that the purpose of the exhibit was “to educate people on the science of sugar.” The tallest of the white buildings in the display, they said, contained the amount of sugar you’d ingest if you drank one can of Coke a day for a year. Nearby was a table covered in sugar cubes to help younger visitors build their own towers and geometric structures. The artists also handed out flyers on “The Science of Sugar” and “Sugar Equations” to help calculate the number of calories contained in each sculpture.
Revels and Jamison are a week into their eight-week-long road trip around the country, travelling in a bus filled with their artwork, called the “Know Your Sugar Tour,” to raise awareness about sugar overconsumption and diabetes. Health care company Abbott Laboratories sponsors the tour.
Rosemary Briars, co-director of the hospital’s diabetes program, stepped out between patients to discuss the exhibit. She said that education is critical for diabetes patients, since “90 percent of diabetes care is what a person does day to day.” The sculptures provide a visual representation of the importance of portion control. In the couple of hours that the exhibit had been up, it was already clear to her that her young patients were “getting a kick out of it,” since they talked to her about the sculptures.
There has been a “nationwide increase in childhood obesity,” Briars said, accompanied by an increase in the number of children La Rabida treats for Type 2 diabetes. In this context, it is especially important to stress the benefits of healthy eating and exercise. She expressed her appreciation for Revels and Jamison’s efforts “to facilitate learning in a fun, creative way.”
The artists have done this before. Last year, they did a similar tour around the country with their sugar sculptures but with representations of actual buildings in the cities they visited rather than this year’s science-fiction creations. This year’s futuristic theme is meant to reflect the fact that people with diabetes are always looking ahead.
The sugar cubes are the storebought kind you put in your coffee. In previous exhibitions, when people have doubted this, they’ve challenged them to simply lick one of the cubes to prove that it’s simply table sugar. On one occasion, the artists said, a man simply walked away with a handful of sugar cubes, nibbling on one.
On their travels around the country, Jamison and Revels frequently stop at Wal-Marts and buy out their entire stock of sugar cubes. They described plotting their route to maximize the number of Wal-Marts they can stop at, and the excitement of arriving at a store to head immediately to the aisle they know will contain table sugar.
Thursday was their last day in Chicago. On Friday, they head to their next stop, Cleveland. At the end of their tour, they will wind up back in Chicago. The sculptures took two months to make; the artists are hoping to leave them as a permanent exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry once the tour has ended.