In Richard Wentworth's work, 35°9', 32°18', the title of which alludes to a grid reference, a twisted and rickety steel ladder appears to lean precariously against the wall while not quite making contact with the floor. The point at which it is attached to the wall is unclear to the viewer, and it seems destined to succumb to gravity at any moment. Another flimsier ladder, made of cable, appears behind the first as a ghostly presence. Like a wayward shadow, it duplicates only half-heartedly the twisted curves of its steel counterpart. This sculpture was made in Jerusalem for the exhibition, Three British sculptors: Richard Deacon, Julian Opie, Richard Wentworth, at the Israel Museum in 1985. Wentworth found the ladder in a scrap heap near the museum. In the work, he tries to 'give it back a bit of ladderness, but also to enjoy the fact that it's actually highly composed…I remember being amused by how sculptural the ladder was; it's heavy and very badly behaved. When you are installing it you usually have to put it up twice because it wants to fall back under its own weight. Gravity, our friend and enemy. It is really as dumb as that, just the sort of facticity of the ladder and then making a ghost of it' (quoted in Contemporary Art, 1998, p.103).
This approach - taking a mundane utilitarian object and transforming its role and identity - is typical of Wentworth's sculpture in the mid-1980s. He establishes a double role for such everyday, manufactured objects as buckets (Yellow Eight, Tate T06528), chairs (Siege, Tate T07167) and ladders, and disrupts their conventional significance. While he is always careful to retain the defining characteristics of the objects he works with, Wentworth's subtle alterations block their usual functions. Everyday household accoutrements thus assume new identities as works of art, embodying thereafter both the familiar and the unfamiliar.
The title of the work is a map reference. Wentworth explained in an interview how he asked an ex-Philosophy student if it were possible to locate the place of Jacob's dream of the ladder that connects heaven and earth, as related in the Bible (Genesis 28,10): 'he said "Oh yes". So I asked him for the grid reference and he said "I'll have it for you in the morning", and that gave the work its title; fable and military precision in one.' (Quoted in Contemporary Art, 1998, p.103.)
Richard Wentworth, exhibition catalogue, Serpentine Gallery, London 1993, reproduced p.21 in colour.
Richard Wentworth, exhibition catalogue, Kunstverein Freiburg, Freiburg 1997.
Contemporary Art: The Janet Wolfson de Botton Gift, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1998, pp.102-4, reproduced p.69 in colour.