Steve Messam

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Art Design History

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

May 15, 2023

Kate Mothes

An inflatable sculpture on a parking garage entrance in The Hague.

“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.”


An inflatable sculpture on a bell tower.

“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.


An inflatable sculpture in an old structure in the woods.

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

An inflatable sculpture wedged between two stone structures in the landscape.

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

An inflatable sculpture around a cottage in the woods.

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

An inflatable sculpture in the woods.

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

An inflatable sculpture on a road.

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

An inflatable sculpture around a belltower.

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

An inflatable sculpture around a cottage.

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

An inflatable sculpture in a pavilion.

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

An inflatable sculpture on a balcony.

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





Bulbous Inflatable Installations by Steve Messam Interact with Historic Architecture and Landscapes

October 5, 2022

Kate Mothes

“Spiked” (2021). All images © Steve Messam, shared with permission

U.K.-based artist Steve Messam is known for his artistic interventions in the landscape, reinterpreting historical monuments, buildings, or rural areas with bold, ephemeral installations. Often inflated, his works reimagine or disrupt perceptions of our surroundings and impact how people move around and through them. Bright colors and striking forms that jut from colonnades, facades, and river banks prompt viewers to consider their relationships to the built environment.

As part of BlowUp Art Den Haag, a three-week outdoor exhibition featuring large-scale, temporary, inflatable artworks throughout The Hague, the artist has unveiled new work marking two notable locations. For one, a bronze statue of William I, or Willem de Oranje, who founded the Netherlands as an independent nation, a tube of green spikes playfully encircles the monument, transforming the atmosphere of the main square it overlooks.

You can find more work on Messam’s website and Instagram.


“Oranje,” (2022). Photo by Pim Top / Hague & Partners

Left: “Bridged” (2021). Right: “Multiform*” (2022)

“Portico” (2022)

“Oranje.” Photo by Pim Top / Hague & Partners

“Tunnel,” (2022). Photo by Pim Top / Hague & Partners




An Inflated Roof of Spikes Protrude From a Crumbling Scottish Gatehouse

July 26, 2017

Kate Sierzputowski

Three white inflatable installations protrude from the landscape in Scotland’s Mellerstain’s House and Gardens, works that inhabit two aging structures and a lake that belongs to the estate built in 1725. The installations, which are collectively titled XXX, are by environmental artist Steven Messam (previously) and aim to present a contemporary twist on the marble sculptures that were meant to originally decorate the home’s grounds.

As of this year the grounds have been opened as a site for open-air contemporary works, with Messam’s pieces creating the first exhibition at the newly opened Borders Sculpture ParkScattered, a series of 6 to 13-foot spheres bob on the surface of the lake, available for investigation by the small canoes one can rent on site. Pointed, a spiked protrusion from the former gatehouse of the estate, fills the center of the building, extending out only from the roof in a series of 28 10-foot peaks. Finally, Towered juts from the center of a crumbling old laundry building in a series of tubes, its columns reaching over 26-feet-high.

The County Durham-based artist mainly works outside of the gallery, producing ephemeral installations like 2015’s PaperBridge which spanned a small English creek with 22,000 perfectly stacked pieces of bright red paper. You can see more from his XXX installation, and view future Border Sculpture Park exhibitions on the park’s Instagram. (via DesignBoom)



Art Design

PaperBridge: A Load-Bearing Arch of Paper Sheets Spans an English Creek

May 18, 2015

Johnny Waldman

PaperBridge 003

all photos by Steve Messam courtesy the artist

While it’s certainly not the longest, this weight-bearing structure is definitely one of the more interesting bridges we’ve come across. Unveiled earlier this month, PaperBridge is the latest site-specific installation by environmental artist Steve Messam. It was constructed using 22,000 sheets of bright, red paper. And despite weighing in at over 4.2 tons, the free-standing structure doesn’t have a single screw, bolt or swab of glue holding it together.

On an aesthetic level, PaperBridge acts as focal point that creates a stark contrast between the bridge and the lush landscape. But on a conceptual level, Messam explains the key relationship between the bridge and its surroundings:

Paper is a simple material made from wood pulp and water. The intensity of colour used in the bridge contrasts with the verdant landscape making a bold statement of form and design. Alongside this the materials used have a resonance with the natural environment and the construction of the bridge also reflects local architectural forms, specifically pack horse bridges found throughout the area. All of the paper used in PaperBridge will be recovered and returned to the Burneside Mill for recycling into new paper once the project ends. This transparent cycle is part of the overall environmental narrative of the piece.

PaperBridge was part of the ‘Lakes Ignite’ project. It was located in the Grisedale Valley, near Patterdale and the public was invited to walk across it before it gets taken down today. (via Designboom and The Kid Should See This)

PaperBridge 006

PaperBridge 001

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