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Northern Ireland's DIY Art Bill Nye Makes Rockets Out of Plants

Paddy Bloomer makes noisy interactive works for festivals and public spaces.

by Andrew Salomone
Mar 2 2017, 4:21pm

Wearing a heat reflective coat and a face shield as he launches a bush-powered rocket in a field might make this artist look like a bit of a mad scientist. Northern Ireland native Paddy Bloomer makes work with a charming combination of playful whimsy and mechanical ingenuity. These works include a boat made from wrecking yard scraps that he used as gondola at the 2005 Venice Biennale, a stairlift roller coaster, and a rocket fueled by a bush common to the British Isles.

Bloomer tells Creators that he's always been driven by curiosity. "As a child I always took things apart to see what was inside. Eventually, I started to put them back together in new ways." Although he knew he wanted to make things, he didn't always know that those things were artworks. "I studied engineering for a couple of years but soon realized that what I was interested in was something else," he says. Bloomer eventually ended up taking art courses in Belfast, which led him to work with the local art community, including frequent collaborator Nicholas Keogh.

From their inception, there's a certain amount of ingenuity in Bloomer's works. "Sometimes I start by solving a problem that doesn't exist," he explains. Bloomer says he likes to make work that responds to a set of constraints or circumstances. "I can be led by locations or materials at hand. I often recycle old sculptures and make new ones. I have pieces of metal in my workshop that have been exhibited lots of times as different things. I love scaffolding, it's fast and reusable."

Even when he's not creating explosions with the local flora, Bloomer's work can often be found in fields accompanied by loud noises. Early on in his career, Bloomer began making sculptures and installations that were designed to be interactive and accessible to the public. "Outside of college I was building contraptions for Belfast carnival parade and visual props for punk and techno gigs," he says.

Some of the gigs where Bloomer has shown his work include outdoor music festivals, where his work had to grab the audience's attention in cunning ways. One of those was with the Texas Chainsaw Massager. "Ordinary massages just don't hit the mark, this yoke will make you relax really hard," explains a statement on Bloomer's website.

It's impossible to separate Bloomer's art practice from his personal life—he literally lives in his work. "I built my own box house last year and am enjoying living in it," he says. But he admits that the experimental nature of his work has forced him to take a step back when a situation became too dangerous. "In 2012, after I had made the Whin Bush Rocket, I got a chance to try a rocket demolition project. The plan was to lift the tower of a derelict wind turbine off the ground. The tower was a massive hollow tube, like a rocket body. But there was an accidental gas explosion, the gas was detonated by a spark created from static electricity generated by a plastic bag that was flapping in the wind. I hadn't conceived that this might happen. A friend was hurt in the accident, he has recovered OK but it could have been a lot worse, the turbine lunch was called off."

In a video documenting the construction of one of his works, Bloomer sums up his philosophy towards art. "They say that necessity is the mother of invention. It's not really, is it? It's kind of boredom or because people want to do things." Even though Bloomer has been forced to walk away some volatile projects, he says he's not done experimenting with them; he's still curious. "I would still like to launch a really big rocket but I would do it differently not with an explosive gas mixture."

In spring of this year, Bloomer will participate in a residency and exhibition at the Leitrim Sculpture Center in Ireland. You can see more of Bloomer's work on his website and Youtube channel.

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