Watch your step with Alex Chinneck’s uncoiling staircase sculpture

A Spring in Your Step by Alex Chinneck. Images: Marc Wilmot

Chinneck describes his sculptures as “contextually responsive”, and in the case of Circus Street, he took into consideration the many entryways to the location, attempting to “design a sculpture that offered something to all of them,” he says. “The artwork responds to the shape, materiality and arrangement of the surrounding buildings, and the spaces between them. The architecture of Circus Street is tall, narrow and angular in design and the staircase introduces a moment of fluidity that bursts beyond the envelope of the building on which it hangs.
“At the same time, despite its physical presence, I wanted to create something with surprising elegance. It’s obviously a large sculpture but I like how four tonnes of material is softened by the play of light across its surface and the almost dancing form it creates. Appropriately, South East Dance will occupy the building opposite, which also has an external spiral staircase.
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Video by Andrew Spicer. Music: Louis Marlowe/Carey Blyton
“Artworks of this scale and public nature are rarely a sprint and require a patience that I really don’t possess – so it’s highly cathartic when I complete them.”
However, he says that it’s “rarely the technical hurdles that make these projects marathons. You have to push and push and push, just to pull them off. This is my 11th large-scale public-facing artwork in the last eight years and although every location and design are different, I do have the benefit of an ever accumulating familiarity with the process of making ambitious ideas a physical reality.”
Clocking in at 25 metres in height, A Spring in Your Step is modelled on a spiral staircase that uncoils towards the top, springing off in various directions against the backdrop of a building. The structure was built in Brighton out of galvanised steel, and took around three years to realise.
“My work often takes archetypal forms (such as buildings, pylons and post boxes) and transforms them with the hope of making something familiar feel momentarily extraordinary. I think sculpture is the reconfiguration of the material world around us, so I suppose my work attempts to do this literally, at times playfully, and always (I hope) with positive effect,” Chinneck says.
The sculpture follows a “non-repeating, expanding and contracting helical form over 25 metres,” Chinneck tells CR. “The real technical challenge came from introducing the sculpture onto a pre-existing building, which involved an endless dialogue between structural investigation and sculptural refinement. It’s easy to navigate technical obstacles with creative compromises, but I suppose it’s the sculptor’s job to minimise these, or at least to conceal them.” Alex Chinneck has been known to deconstruct architecture in his large-scale illusionary artworks, which have included upside-down shops and pylons, buildings that appear to unzip, and a sliding house in Margate. In tune with his previous projects, Chinneck’s newest sculpture – also located in the southeast, in Brighton’s recently developed Circus Street area – would make even the calmest of surveyors sweat.

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