I have thought about ladders, and over the last four or five years I have made some.
The whole thing may have arisen from cleaning the gutters or some other patchwork chore related to holding the house together. What emerged from my ascents and descents, bruises and strains was an awareness of the ladder as a sculptural framework that regulates motion, and to some extent, emotion. I might have felt aspiration as I toed tentatively yet deliberately upward, toward the peeling patch of paint under the eaves. I might then have felt exasperation as I discovered that I hadn’t brought the scraper with me and now had to gingerly make my way back to the ground.
There’s nothing like having one’s nose up against a rung to encourage contemplation, especially when it’s going to be there for a while. I pondered ladder-ness as a sculptural premise. Big, little, red, green, yellow? How much detail? Would a ladder sculpture be enhanced by the inclusion of cleats, rods and other such? Was there an acceptable level of abstraction? What would be the point?
The aspirational caught my attention first. I had wandered through a business accessory store and noticed all the gold plated knick-knacks. Perhaps there was a market for little gilded ladders celebrating the corporate climb. Not my persona. But an idea did emerge: organizational or social climbing tends to be an uneven affair and the rungs could be spaced to reflect that. Now things were free to float.
The level of abstraction was set at simple stiles (love that term) with rectangular cross sections, and dowels. Then it was time to deal with the proportions. I wanted the viewer to respond to the ladder in a visceral and empathetic way. Size and rung spacing were vital as an excess of variation could cause the ladder identity to fall apart. Small ladders are simply something to look at. Rung spacing spells the difference between significant and merely decorative. I ended up making an eleven-foot ladder in white for a group show and it was clear that these objects needed to be at a human scale.
Image captions: 1. A golden ladder model; 2. Ladder at group show; 3. Ladder that fell into decorative category; 4. Ladder with two interconnected rhythms
Since then I have pushed the theme around a little, looking for an opening to something new. One can vary how the ladder is affixed or upon what it is leaning. The ladder could be extended to some improbable degree. A concept would be to make one five hundred feet high. A person needs to remember that a ladder in a public space would likely constitute an attractive nuisance. To counter that I pasted together a proposal to affix a ladder high on the side of a downtown building. The ladder would begin and end in thin air. I do know that I want to make one of steel and paint it some institutional color.
The ladder fits into the overall theme of linkage and there are possibilities in that direction. I would like to know what your thoughts and ideas are on this matter.