The Stairs To Nowhere

My Vantage Point To the Heavens & Quiet Among Chaos

By: Vanessa Martinez

“The Stairs To Nowhere” photograph by Vanessa Martinez

“The Stairs To Nowhere?”

To all who may seek understanding of The Stairs To Nowhere, one must first consider what, in fact they are. In short The Stairs To Nowhere are a symbolic and functional sculpture located in front of the Academic West Building on Western Washington University’s main campus. The Stairs are actually called “Stadium Piece” by the artist Bruce Nauman and were constructed as a gift to Western from the Virginia Wright Fund. According to the Western Gallery Website the Stairs are meant to “signify the students education about how to communicate and how to perform in a larger environment.”

Who uses the Stairs, if anyone at all?

Perhaps your first inclination is to think only artist are attracted to the Stairs, being that they are a sculpture but in the same way you do not have to be a musician to enjoy music, you do not have to be an artist to partake in art, and yes, even sit on the Stairs. So who uses the stairs then? The answer is simple; students. Students use the Stairs. The Stairs are used to sit, to study, to relax, to listen to music or read a book. Some students even simply perch atop the Stairs to people watch as as the various bodies walk by heading somewhere. The people on the Stairs though are as mixed and diverse as the rest of campus. Not one kind of person sits on the Stairs but rather the intentions of the people on the Stairs is the common theme between them: their desire to relax; to step out of the ongoing flow of college traffic. Everyone on the Stairs is there to slow the pace of a hectic day and that’s the unspoken rule on the Stairs. They are for the overwhelmed introvert, seeking some of their own space; they are for the studious, seeking some outdoor study time. The Stairs are for the thinkers and watchers and listeners, all alike. The Stairs are for you; a student seeking solace.

“Why Are They Important?”

The Stairs serve the purpose of a calm haven in the middle of a clamouring campus. The Stairs are a resting place, a waiting place and an observatory for those who seek their stoney solace. In an interview with a fellow student Conor Workman I gained further insight as to why the stairs are so important in a student’s life here at Western. Conor says “the Stairs are a place where I come to gather my thoughts at the end of a long day. Sometimes I read or listen to music. Just give myself some down time and the Stairs are the perfect place to do it.” Conor, like so many other students here at Western, has found his solace in the Stairs.

“Conor Workman On The Stairs” Photo by Vanessa Martinez

“What About The Other Sculptures On Campus?”

“Stone Enclosure: Rock Rings” Photos by Vanessa Martinez
“Stone Enclosure: Rock Rings” Photos by Vanessa Martinez

The first functional piece that I will compare the Stairs to is the Stone Enclosure located behind the Communications building. This piece was built by the artist Nancy Holt with funds from the Virginia Wright Fund, National Endowment for the Arts, Washington State Arts Commission, Western Washington University Art Fund and the artist’s own contributions. According to the Western Gallery Website “Her (Holt’s) rock enclosure is mapped on earth according to the celestial layout of the north star…” making this piece’s layout primarily functional for stargazing.

When Comparing this piece of art to the Stairs, as an artist I have to commend Holt on the aesthetics of her sculpture. The Stone Enclosure is a beautiful piece constructed of brilliant red stones with aligned arches and windows and a perfect open top for sky gazing. The only problem with this enclosure for me is it’s functionality. The only way to sit and relax in this sculpture is to climb the haphazard rock walls to the top, where people like me are likely to get stranded or you could squeeze yourself into one of the holes that is likely cold due to being in the shade more often than not. This piece is definitely eye candy but lacks the functionality and accommodations of sitting that the Stair provide.

“Log Ramps” Photos by Vanessa Martinez
“Log Ramps” Photos by Vanessa Martinez

The second piece of art I will compare the Stairs to are the Log Ramps located in front of the Engineering Building. The Log Ramps were built by the artist Lloyd Hamrol and funded by the NEA, Georgia Pacific Corp, Builders Concrete Inc. and Western Washington University. According to the Western Gallery Website the Log Ramps were intended to be a “participatory sculpture to evoke references to ceremonial architecture, protecting enclosures, and the natural resources of the Northwest.”

The Log Ramps in comparison with the Stairs are similar in that the Ramps are designed to be climbed and sat on. They provide a, more or less comfortable and feasible sitting environment. But in comparison to the Stairs the Ramps pale in the fact that they are often in the shade making for a cold sitting environment, they are made of wood which absorbs and retains water making for an even colder sitting environment and sitting beneath the Ramps is usually nearly impossible because of the wet grass. The placement of the Ramps on campus hinders its potential as an interactive sculpture.

“What Do I Think?”

“Vanessa on the Stairs” Photo by Vanessa Martinez

After reviewing the Stairs and comparing them to other sculptures on campus I am confident in saying that the stairs are the most effective interactive sculpture on campus. They get just enough sun to keep pretty warm throughout the day. Every step on the stairs is big enough to sit many people comfortably. They are positioned in the center of a bustling part of campus making it a perfect point for observation, and they are big enough that usually each individual student can claim a good amount of space for themselves. All of the Pros are not to say that the stairs do not have some down sides. They are open to the elements which is equally good and equally bad. They get rained on and damp, but they also get sunshine and stay warm. They are concrete and hard to sit on for extended periods of time, but that is their aesthetic as an art piece. The stairs are not perfect but they are functional and practical for the purpose they were intended.

As for me the Stairs are a basking site. I take solace in the sun and in the stars as they each come. Both the sun and stars remind me of home, where the sun seems close enough to touch and the stars envelope you each night. Here though, those things are something to be savored, they’re a rare treasure to I who misses the sky. So I savor the sun and stars from the stairs. I like to sit and watch the shadows creep up the Stairs as the sun moves across the sky on a warm day and on a clear night I like to twine myself into the stars and settle there for a while. For me the Stairs are my solace from a crowded campus and my vantage point to the heavens. As for prospective students, new to Western’s campus, the stairs are for you; for your sitting, thinking, watching, studying, relaxing, baking pleasures. As for other readers, art lovers and those interested in life’s spectacles the stairs are for you too; for your intrigue, your interpretations and viewing pleasures.


Work Cited

“Western Gallery.” Western Gallery. Western Washington University, n.d. Web. 15 Jan. 2016.

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