Sweetness and Light

Part greenhouse and part meditative environment, the sweetest part of this installation by William Lamsom is its exterior, which is outfitted with 162 glass panels which incorporate caramelised sugar. Wait, what?

Sugar serves many more purposes than sweetening food. When sugar is cooked or caramelised to a certain temperature (roughly 170 – 200°C), it then cools to create glass. In fact, sugar glass has been used for many years in the film industry because it looks like the real thing but shatters into soft pieces upon impact, making it a safer material to use for glass-breaking stunts. Sugar is also interesting as a material because it produces a vivid and wide spectrum of colours depending upon the temperature to which it is heated. Lamson explored these properties by caramelising sugar at different temperatures, producing 162 unique sugar glass tones ranging from light yellow to dark red amber. The sticky, caramelised sugar was then poured between two panes of standard window glass. The ‘stickiness’ of the sugar holds the panes together as the sugar solution cools into a colourful glass panel. The glass panels were then sealed at their exposed edges to prevent water from infiltrating and dissolving the sugar. Each uniquely coloured panel was then placed into the greenhouse’s steel frame. The result is a spectacular and sugary, stained glass effect.

Even better: the installation also functions as a working greenhouse. Panels on each side of the greenhouse can be opened up to regulate the temperature and allow for cooling of its interior space. On colder days, the panels are kept closed to provide warmth and sunlight for the citrus plants inside. Making reference to the process of photosynthesis, these plants collect sugar-filtered sunlight and through the process of photosynthesis, create sugars themselves – a circular process of sweetness and light!

Image source: William Lamson, Solarium, 2012. Steel, glass, sugar, plants. 10′ 10? x 8′ 11? x 10′ 3 3?8 in. (330.2 x 271.8 x 313 cm). Courtesy the artist and Pierogi Gallery. © Storm King Art Center.