by Keith Barber

Artist Charlie Brouwer remembers the moment he became fascinated by the concept of using ladders as a medium for his sculpture creations. Inspiration struck during Brouwer’s art school days. He was trying to think of an original medium for his next sculpture and found himself standing on a ladder. “One thing led to another and my interest in ladders grew as I began thinking about transcendence — things that form bridges between things, and ladders are a prime symbol for that,” Brouwer said. The word “ladder,” in fact, comes from the Latin root “to transcend.” “I’m more interested in positive kind of things, and I think ladders are associated with that,” Brouwer said. “We build, rebuild, repair, construct and we metaphorically use them to attain higher goals.” Brouwer has been selected by the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art to kick off its Inside Out: Artists in the Community II series, said co-curator Steven Matijicio. SECCA officially closed for a yearlong renovation on Jan. 4, and simultaneously announced a series of public art installations planned for 2009. “We wanted to move away from

what the community normally thinks of in terms of public art,” Matijicio said. “With our program we wanted to take it in a new direction, to show people that art can be ephemeral, agile, able to inspire curiosity.” Brouwer’s work inspires thoughts of Jacob’s Ladder and the Tower of Babel, Matijicio said. His public art installations, like the one he will construct on the Tavern Meadow in Old Salem March 6-8, require public input and interaction, Matijicio said. In conjunction with Brouwer’s exhibit, SECCA is issuing a call for ladders with official pick-up dates set for Feb. 21- 22 and Feb. 28-March 1. For further information, go to Brouwer said ladders of all kinds will be accepted — wooden, aluminum, toy ladders and ladders built with nontraditional materials. These ladders will provide the medium in which Brouwer will work. In addition, the stories surrounding the donated ladders will be part of the exhibit, Matijicio said. “When these installations occur in a gallery, Charlie collects the stories and places them in a binder. Since this will be a public installation, we’re going to have this interpretive device where you can phone in and listen to the artists’ audio recordings,” Matijicio said. “People can leave their stories on a machine and those recordings will be placed on SECCA’s website.” Brouwer said his idea is to use the ladders to create a three-dimensional form that will take the form of a house. “Ladders represent an extending and reaching out and a house represents the place where we are safe and secure and comfortable,” Brouwer said. “We desire both, but they’re opposites.” Brouwer emphasizes that he will borrow the donated ladders temporarily and return them to their rightful owners after his work is finished. The act of borrowing adds to the artistry of his sculpture, he said. “When we borrow something from somebody, we sort of go to them with the expectation that there’s enough of a mutual interest in the relationship that the person who has the thing we want to borrow will consider it and ultimately let us borrow it,” he said. “The person loaning the thing has to trust the lender or the organization. So this mutual understanding develops. The act of borrowing is as important to the work as the fact I’m using ladders — it’s equally important.” The Ladders exhibit represents the first of seven public art installations planned by SECCA in 2009. Old Salem is the copresenter of Ladders. Brouwer will build his sculpture in the Tavern Meadow March 6-8, and the public is encouraged to view the artist construct his work from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. on those days. Brouwer said a solid audience for the construction phase of Ladders is key to the installation achieving its overall purpose, and Old Salem is the perfect location for the exhibit. “All of this is an attempt to have the public be engaged in the making of art both literally with the materials and figuratively with the symbols of metaphors that ladders suggest,” Brouwer said. “It’s a nice coming together of places, SECCA and Old Salem. One is the center for contemporary art and one is the center of our past — ladders bridge the expanse.”

SECCA curator Steven Matijcio (left) chats with artist Charlie Brouwer at his Virginia studio. Brouwer is the first artist to be presented as part of SECCA’s Inside Out: Artists in the Community II, a year-long program of public art projects in Winston-Salem and the surrounding community. (Photo courtesy of SECCA)