The Floating Staircase

Tom Dean

1983, 21:30 minutes, colour


The Floating Staircase is video documentation that stems from another ambitious project by Dean, where from 1978 to 1981 he constructed an epic six-metre-high wooden staircase that floated in the waters of Lake Ontario near the shores of Cherry Beach, Toronto. After continual headaches with harbour authorities, Andy Fabo reported that Dean “burned the sculpture in a private ritual in 1982, but not before giving it a Dionysian public send-off at the Palais Royale, a decaying big band-era dance hall on the waterfront.” The video documents this ritualistic fire and has become one of the artist’s most iconic artworks.

"Tom Dean's
Floating Staircase was a massive wooden staircase floated on Lake Ontario. It was originally conceived as a sister piece to his bed sculpture produced for the International Sculpture Symposium in Toronto, but was not produced at that time. The boat/staircase was not related to any program or exhibition. In the winter of 1978-79 it was stored on the grounds of a power plant. The following two winters it was stored on Texaco property. Motors and a steering mechanism were installed in 1980 with the idea of taking it up the Welland Canal, but the project became too massive and was abandoned. The staircase was burned instead in the fall of 1981. The charred remains were stored in Tom Dean's studio for some years to come in hope of further possibilities. A videotape records the tragic history of the Floating Staircase."

Reference: AA Bronson, ed.,
From Sea to Shining Sea, (Toronto: Power Plant, 1987), 109

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