We're starting to get a real soft spot for artist Charlie Brouwer: he's the one who does the ladder sculptures made up of donated and borrowed ladders from the community in which the installation stands. This time he is in Allentown, Pennsylvania, where he took part in a sculpture competition in both 1990 and 1993. Brouwer returns alone to stage the next iteration of his 'Rise Up' series in which he travels to different cities and towns across America, borrowing ladders from the community in order to construct a temporary sculpture where everyone who donates can see their crucial part in creating the artwork. Brouwer used to find working with galleries and museums antagonising, with a lot of forms to fill out and hoops to jump through in order to get funding or space, but since he has embraced the community side of creating installations he has found those same institutions are willing to work with him, providing space and promotion for the projects. Brouwer, however, very much prefers the community aspect of his work, 'one of the roles that art plays is to create an experience people can identify wit that would allow me to go to anybody and everybody no matter what part of the world they're part of and include them in this because we're creating a metaphor. True to his beliefs, Brouwer has written to the White House asking the President for a ladder each time he starts a new iteration in a new town. Sadly, he has not received a Presidential ladder yet, but he will keep on asking.
Community and Ladders
It is this community feeling that inspired Brouwer to start working with ladders in the first place, I just happened on the memory of growing up in a neighbourhood where people borrowed ladders and used them and brought them back. It was a fond memory of an ideal way a neighbourhood should work. The ladder is an object and concept everyone is familiar with and in using the parallel between the idea of the ladder as a journey (such as the career or property ladders) and the visual language of the ladder in representing ascension Brouwer manages to say something very powerful about the human desire to keep moving forward and to keep growing. He combines this with the community aspect by using ladders donated by the community. That way, when people come to view the installation they can look out for their ladder and see the visual representation of their part in society and their immediate community. Brouwer puts it very eloquently when he says, your ladder is your hopes and dreams and we could tie them all together and they would be holding together and supporting each otherâ€. Brouwer uses ladders of all types, from step stools to industrial ladders, toy ladders and everything in between. He builds the ladder sculptures himself, standing and climbing on them as he goes. He has not had an accident yet, but then again he is very used to standing on precariously balanced ladders. There is no set design or pattern for the installations, as each time he builds one the donated materials are different. The finishing point is reached when the sculpture satisfies Brouwer; the important thing for me is it gets to a size that feels significant. That's all we really need to achieve. Wise words from the inventor of the public-participation ladder sculptures. Rise Up! Allentown wasÂ finished on September 13th and will be in situ for a month before it is dismantled and the ladders returned to the donors. Any unclaimed ladders are donated to charity.