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Joseph Marr

Sculpture of Sugar

Joseph Marr stands in his atelier in Berlin Neukölln among all his resplendent and quaint colourful sugar sculptures, quoting Hindu Master Neem Karola Baba whose photo hangs from a wall. ‘I love him,’ he says. Considering his sculptures are linked to desire in one way or another, such a statement is hardly surprising. The teachings of the Master regarding the art of letting go have become vital to Marr.

Whoever has seen Marr’s metres-long sculpture Together at least once in Berghain, Berlin’s most well-known techno club, wouldn’t believe the claim of it being a spiritual work. Not at first glance, at least. Between the sweaty revellers and the deafening tunes in one of the bars at the club you’ll find manifold figures placed in long glass cabinets bathed in a seductive light: male bodies melting into each other, an amorous game, basking in the blissful and libertine atmosphere of the venue. Their risqué appearance is complemented by the notion that, in theory, the halftransparent colourful sugar used to mould the statues could be enjoyed with a flick of the tongue. Enjoy!


To define Marr’s work only by his doubtless spectacular intervention in the club would be a grave mistake. He points to the two figures at the end of the row in the Berghain and says that even this work should tell a story: of how lust transforms into love and letting yourself completely go. Intertwined, the two bodies rest in a dreamy union offering an antithesis to the wild dancing surrounding them. Sculptures made with colourful sugar are more timeconsuming for the original Australian and for reasons that have nothing do to with animation issues. His skill lies in staging emotions and desire itself using his figures as a theatrical and symbolical game; in doing so, he consciously balances on an at sometimes razor-thin border between High and Low, Affirmation und Exposure, Kitsch and Appropriation, like Richard Prince, Helmut Newton or Jeff Koons wanted to do. Marr has thus developed that concept into an independent artistic strategy.

Step into the courtyard atelier in Neukölln and you’ll be whisked away into what has all the trappings of an archaeological storage site, home to a hoarder of ancient shards from excavation sites kept in cardboard boxes and bursting from the shelves. The mute faces however, a refraction of shifting ruby and bright yellow, don’t speak of refined naivety or silent largeness. Their frozen charm turns them into surreal, contemporary figurines: so much so they could be figments from our dreams stalking reality. Their gaze inevitably disconcerts and fascinates at the same time. Marr insists that every person he sculpted actually exists – it all started with one former girlfriend, who modelled for his first attempt with sugar. ‘These are not my interpretations,’ says Marr, ‘they’re real people.’ No re-presentations of people, rather presentations of people in their true form, just in another medium. The models are acquaintances, but mostly people he’s met during chance encounters or contacted online. They’re invited into his atelier where he then proceeds to take pictures of them as they pose using a 3D scanner; depending on the situation, the photoshoot can be an extremely taxing or intense experience, like the male sculptural love scene at the Berghain, which Marr describes as an intimate moment he staged, representing an existential experience.

The working process based on the 3D scans however reflects a process we normally find in industrial production halls for design or engineering aims. After processing the 3D scans with a computer programme developed for architects, a company creates a model of reinforced artificial wooden fibre using a special mortising machine and available data. Marr then uses the model to create a silicone mould and fills it with sugar in the Katjes-Werk in Potsdam. After setting, he applies a clear lacquer layer to make the figures resistant. It took him two years to fully understand the material. Ultimately, only sugar gives that golden molten shimmer to the colours of his sculptures, creating a refulgent sticky aura.

He’d originally started painting as a young man under the guiding hand of his father, an impressive figurative painter who continually encouraged him. Joseph moved to Germany after falling in love and, in 2008, experienced a radical break with his conventional painting style and dedicated himself to appropriative techniques. He plucks his themes from mass media and the Internet, placing them as collages on acrylic glass with aluminium inlays or as lightboxes. He achieved immediate success. The idea to try out the sculptures came to him more by chance than anything else – from the polarising conflicting experience of desire which has, according to him, a seducing and captivating side. Sticky, as it were.

Which brings us right back to the spiritual element in his works: the tempting and at the same time distancing effect of his figures maybe reflects that wellrehearsed necessity of letting go, finding peace: all interpersonal experience which give them the glow of lived dreams.

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Carsten Probst lebt als Autor in Berlin.


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