Appreciation of the work is enhanced by an understanding of some important concepts underlying the series. First is the concept of the vertical dimension, often used in our society as a metaphor for value. Thus heaven is up and hell is down; some pleasures are higher, others lower; the most desirable and well-paying positions in any bureaucratic hierarchy are “upper management”; the penthouse rents for more than the basement apartment.
Ladders are one way of symbolically conquering the vertical dimension. An early example is the Old Testament story of Jacob’s dream, wherein a ladder serves as the means of communication between heaven and earth. A more contemporary example is when we speak of climbing the “corporate ladder” to the rewards of success, authority and responsibility, money, status, a corner office, etc.
One of the tasks confronting the viewer is to determine for each image what vertical dimension is represented by the ladder. In some cases the text in the images identifies the vertical dimension; thus Number 2 refers to intensity of desire, Number 13 refers to the idea of progress, etc. More often than not the vertical dimension is not explicitly defined in the image, with the result that greater intellectual effort is required on the part of the viewer to interpret the work meaningfully. The vertical dimension of Number 16, for example, arguably represents the established moral order. By deviating from the vertical, the ladder has violated the norms and morals of its society. The signs attempt to restore the moral order by reverting to the ‘proper’ vertical orientation. In this, as in most images in the series, a serious issue underlies a veneer of absurdist humor. The thoughtful viewer can play similar intellectual games with all of the images in the series.
While we stereotypically think of ladders as a means of ascent, they can, of course, be traversed both up and down. This raises the question of how the images in the series are to be read: from bottom to top, or vice versa? Some images in the series only make sense when read in one direction, though that direction is not indicated explicitly in the image and must be inferred by the viewer. Other images can be read in either direction with somewhat different interpretations. The necessity to determine how to read the images in the series implicitly encourages viewer interaction with the works of art, thereby, we hope, making for a more rewarding experience.
A variety of problems are posed by the images in the series. One is the issue of limits in life — limits to ambition, accomplishments, possibilities, physical resources, etc. For example, Number 19, “The sky’s the limit”, poses this popular aphorism beneath an image of a sky segment at the top of the ladder. One’s attempt to ascend the ladder (and ascend one must if sense is to be made of the text) is impeded by the image of the sky on the uppermost step of the ladder. Called into question, then, is the sense of unlimited possibilities that is one of the defining characteristics of American culture. Can we, as individuals or as a society, be everything we aspire to, or are there externally imposed realities beyond which our desires cannot take us?
Some images explore social or political issues. Number 12, for example, alludes to the tendency to wrap our political and social judgments in the mantle of religious rectitude. More than one (Number 17, for example) are wacky and comical absurdist situations that defy easy categorization. Other topics explored include patriotism, the nature of reality, and social inequality and stratification, to name only a few.
There are twenty-seven images in this work. They are inkjet prints from Photoshop files. Original capture was with a 4×5 view camera. In order to encourage intimacy between the art and the viewer, the images themselves are small, ranging from an image area of 3.25” by 7.5” to a maximum of 7.5” by 7.5”.