THE DEIFICATION OF THE HELICAL STAIRCASE
By Anthony J. Parké
I frequently use the mesmerising properties of the helical staircase in my paintings as a psychological framework upon which to build a symbolic structure of meaning. The helical staircase symbolises both journey, transformation, and entrapment in my work. If not the staircase itself, then a close approximation of some of its familiar features are used – such as banisters or turned wood.
Unlike the linear staircase the helical staircase’s journey is mystery-bound as its ending is beyond perception; as such, it’s journey can never be known. It’s summit lays beyond view. It’s ending merely leads to the outer limits of knowledge, beyond the realms of out consciousness; it rises into the imaginative, subconscious world of protean symbols, shadows, and strange emanations.
The staircase is a familiar psychological trope in suspense and horror genres, because its spans a polarity between that which is below (where all is known and safe), to that which is above (which is forbidden and dangerous). It bridges light and dark, and heaven and hell.
The liminal space which permeates a staircase may lead to an attic or a locked room. Both suitable metaphors for the darker recesses of the human subconscious where Jungian notions of the dark shadow roam. Thus each protagonist is faced with the push and pull of undertaking a potentially perilous journey with each step – one which might lead to psychic revelation, spiritual entrapment, or an apocalyptic demise.
An icon of the 12th century entitled, Ladder of Divine Ascent (Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Egypt), shows monks ascending Jacobs’ ladder/staircase, and others being struck off the staircase by monks with bows and arrows ready to take the souls of those who don’t have the moral fortitude. In this instance the staircase deity differentiates between those who are able to undertake the transformational journey, and those who aren’t. Perhaps it could be said that each protagonist in my paintings has to undertake their own transformational journey, in doing so they may need to show a certain psychic fortitude in order to complete it. Alternatively, they may wish to drown in the mire of psychic self-annihilation (which might be equally desirable).
The staircase establishes contact between Man and God. It also connotes ambition, as in the gradual acquisition of knowledge, or spiritual transcendence; it connotes the overcoming of a psychic malady, or an embroilment in a negative malevolent force. Essentially, once on its steps, it symbolises the archetypal hero’s journey.
Thus the staircase is a soft deity, employing its implied power to transform the mundane to the spiritual. It is symbolic of the connection between heaven and earth. It might represent progress, ascenscion, and spiritual passage through levels of initiation in my paintings. It may act like a benevolent deity because it may elevate the human spirit and promise potential alleviation from suffering on the journey’s completion. Conversely it may act like a malevolent deity, binding and entrapping it’s pitiful protagonist in a web of spiralling mahogany. Other times it may indecisively vibrate between the two.
The helical staircase is akin to architectural DNA, mimicking patterns of the double helix. In some sense we see the very core of our protagonist’s physiological condition in the staircase, laid bare like the informational DNA itself. She has a psychological narrative to reveal, evident in the staircase and it’s surrounding elements. Where is the protagonist within this journey? As mentioned, the helical staircase’s ending can never be known. As such it is ultimately a metaphorical device designed to be suggestive of a journey, a journey which might involve psychic transformation, psychic entrapment, or an existentialist milieu within the liminal space between.
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