Perspective illusion and David Nash's steps

As part of his recent retrospective exhibition at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, David Nash created a site specific piece entitled 'Seventy One Steps', which forms part of the walking route between the two sides of the valley.

"The intervention consists of seventy one oak steps, carefully charred and oiled, which follow the lie of the land up the hill. The steps are embedded in thirty tons of coal, to create a useful artwork that will gradually erode as it is walked on.

The steps are an evolution of an abiding theme within Nash's sculpture that connects up and down, root and branch, and inspired by his primary interest in wood and trees.

(taken from the information board on site)

The width of the steps gradually decrease as they rise up the hillside, with those at the top being roughly half the width of those at the bottom. This creates an accelerated perspective effect, which makes the stair appear longer and more impressive as one begins the ascent. By contrast, when viewed from above the whole stair appears to be much narrower, shorter in length and more intimately scaled.

(photos copyright © Russell Light)

Perspectival staircases have a long history, with Bernini's 'Scala Regia' in the Vatican being perhaps the most famous example. More recently, the device was also used by Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates in their 1988-91 Sainsbury Wing extension to the National Gallery in London, which was appropriately designed to house Italian renaissance art.

Bernini - Scala Regia, Vatican, 1663-66

David Nash at YSP

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