'Diminish and Ascend' – Christchurch, New Zealand - Atlas Obscura

'Diminish and Ascend'

This aluminum “stairway to heaven” has impaled at least a couple of birds.  


“Diminish and Ascend” is a welded aluminum sculpture by New Zealand artist David McCracken. Unveiled in 2013 at the “Sculpture by the Sea” exhibition in Sydney, the staircase-like structure now stands in a lake at the Christchurch Botanic Gardens.

When it was first unveiled in Bondi Beach in Sydney, “Diminish and Ascend” reached up and over the edge of a cliff, giving the impression, from some angles at least, of an endless “stairway to heaven” stretching up into the sky.

The optical illusion was achieved by having fairly regular-sized steps at the base, which slowly narrowed to a point at the very end. Rather than reaching infinitely to the heavens, the sculpture was in fact about 31 feet long. It was an impressive sight, and became one of the most photographed sculptures at that year’s “Sculpture by the Sea.”

According to McCracken, the idea for “Diminish and Ascend” came about years before its creation, during “a conversation about a performance piece depicting a ladder, or similar, that required the protagonist to grow smaller in order to ascend … a kind of Lewis Carroll device that we talked about achieving with shadow puppetry or projection.” McCracken made a rudimentary sketch of a stairway designed using a perspective illusion, which years later he turned into a sculpture.

After Bondi Beach, “Diminish and Ascend” was displayed at “Sculpture on the Gulf” on Waiheke Island in New Zealand. Then, in 2016, it was installed in Kiosk Lake in the grounds of Christchurch Botanic Gardens in New Zealand, where it stands today. 

Since its installation in the lake, the stairway has become a popular hangout among resident ducks and visiting seagulls, who like to gather on the steps (with monthly poo-removal costs amounting to about NZ$700). For at least two gulls, however, the sculpture’s “stairway to heaven” tag has proved all too literal. The unfortunate birds accidentally flew into the sculpture’s pointy end, impaling themselves on the tip of the stairway.

Following the bird impaling incidents, McCracken agreed he had to do something about it, and suggested removing the metal tip and replacing it with silicone painted to look like steel. It’s unclear if such a change ever occurred.

As for the artist’s future projects, he still hopes to build a second Diminish and Ascend but “on a truly monumental scale for permanent placement.” Hot air ballooners, you have been warned…

Know Before You Go

"Diminish and Ascend" is located in Kiosk Lake in the grounds of Christchurch Botanic Gardens in New Zealand. The Botanic Gardens are located along Rolleston Avenue in the center of Christchurch and are open daily from 7 a.m. to 6.30 p.m. Entrance is free.

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