Steve Messam’s Inflatable Installations Highlight How Landscapes and Architecture Shape Communities and Culture


Source Colossal  

“Crested” (2023), The Hague, The Netherlands. All images © Steve Messam, shared with permission

Whether coaxing new life from abandoned structures in expansive landscapes or drawing attention to modest urban elements, Steve Messam provokes shifts in perspective and new ways of seeing our surroundings. The County Durham-based artist creates site-specific, inflatable installations that recontextualize ruins, statues, or stately architecture into temporary public sculptures. Working internationally, many of his projects also focus on locations around his home in the North of England, drawing attention to landscapes rich with history, relics of which are easy to overlook.

Messam plays with concepts of visual landmarks and follies in his series Architect of Ruins, spotlighting a handful of dilapidated remnants around Weardale and Teesdale, ranging from World War II pillboxes to disused railway bridges to crumbling industrial remains. “By highlighting these often overlooked structures, the project aims to reveal the layers of narrative that make up the story of the landscape, from mining and agriculture to the transformative effect of the railways and the role of landowners,” he says.

In another recent work, “Belltower,” the artist draws attention to the recognizable House Bell Turret of Ushaw in Durham, which has “more Pugin architecture than you can shake a gothic stick at,” Messam says. “I wanted to install a piece that would act as a silhouette to what already exists and create an homage to some of the incredible Gothic Revival architecture on the site.”

 

“Belltower” (2020), Ushaw Historic House and Gardens, Durham, U.K.

Opting for a more modern canvas, Messam created “Crested”—part of Blow Up Art Den Haagon top of a contemporary entrance to a subterranean parking garage, toying with language and form to create an abstract, pointed crown. His installations for the program last autumn interpreted historic landmarks, and this year he was keen to reframe something pointedly not historic. “A crest is something you have on a bird—something on top of a head—but it’s also the whiteness on a wave when it breaks,” he says. “It doesn’t get more ‘not of note’ than the entrance to an underground car park.” By installing massive red spikes on top of a functional building designed to blend in, Messam gives it “its moment,” transforming an unassuming structure into a focal point.

Blow Up Art Den Haag continues through May 28, and the series Encounters at Bicester Village remains on view into June. He also has four new pieces at Clerkenwell Design Week later in the month, and the National Railway Museum in York will unveil a new permanent installation in July. See more work on his website, Instagram, and a growing archive of projects on Vimeo.

 

“Cottage” (2022), Killhope Lead Mining Museum, County Durham, U.K.

Part of ‘Architect of Ruins’ (2020), Weardale and Teesdale, County Durham, U.K.

“Cottage” (2022), Killhope Lead Mining Museum, County Durham, U.K.

“Star” (2022), Killhope Lead Mining Museum, County Durham, U.K.

Part of ‘Architect of Ruins’ (2020), Weardale and Teesdale, County Durham, U.K.

“Belltower” (2020), Ushaw Historic House and Gardens, Durham, U.K.

Part of ‘Architect of Ruins’ (2020), Weardale and Teesdale, County Durham, U.K.

“Bungalow” (2023), Sassoon Docks, Mumbai, India

Part of ‘Encounters’ (2023), Bicester Village, U.K.

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