bird, box & spindle

Family Tree / Winding Staircase

Family Tree / Winding Staircase, 1995

Wall Relief (72"x 84"x 8")
Collection of the artist
© Julie Lapalme
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The staircase has been traditionally suggestive of both time (past/present/future) & place (upstairs/attic & downstairs/cellar). This is a fixed ideology based on binary codes which often determines gender politics. I wanted to counter this linear flow and negate the rigid polarization between mind and body by making a winding, interconnected staircase. I hoped that its layered and simultaneous detailing and pockets of activity would allow for different and varied readings of the staircase.

The idea of the winding staircase as a family tree was an important symbol because of its interconnected shape, where there was no visible root structure, no beginning and end, much like the hazy, ill-defined knowledge of the adoptee’s own genealogical history. The birds interacting on the different planes refer to the levels of experience with family members as one ages and matures. The layers of plywood themselves, coming off of the wall, suggest the complexity of the modern family grouping where adoption, divorce, parents’ remarriage, step-siblings and half-siblings has created the extended family: a family that is not ‘broken’ but more, expanding and fluid.


The tree with the nest is likened to the staircase in the home; both structures surround the family and support and protect with the branch/spindle. These structures are akin to the body’s skeletal structure, with bones which enclose and protect the soft, inner organs. Encased in the staircase/tree are boxes containing nest material, fragments of a whole; broken teeth, a spongy lung, a pivoting hip joint, and a liquid eye.

Boxes isolate the body parts from each other. They do not connect, nor do they make a whole. This fragmented body, boxed-in, alludes to the adoptee’s lack of medical history. A physician’s inevitable inquiries about family medical history can create discomfort and feelings of anxiety, fear and shame over the lack of knowledge of one‘s double heritage. Often in secret, an attempt is made to secure these boxes to attain their mysterious contents. These boxes, flattened out, become lines and veins — flight patterns, blueprints and plans. They are found maps of places unseen and unfamiliar.


Family Tree  l  Pigeon: Cowardice  l  Cuckoo: Courage  l  Mme. Cowbird  l  L'Escalier Unique
Winding Staircase  l  House of my Own  l  L'Escalier qui monte