Carnivorous plants as public art?

Art Blocks- Patrick Renner- Credit Morris Malakoff-029

Trumpet Flower turns the Funnel Tunnel phenomenon on its head — with a purpose. Houston artist Patrick Renner and his collective, Flying Carpet Creative, reimagined the colorful, slithering creature as a vertical statement.

The impressive structure, spiraling into the air as it leans onto an adjoining building, acts in strong contrast to the cool cityscape in which it rests. Constructed from a steel frame wrapped with wooden slats that were decorated during a community painting party at Market Square Park, the sculpture descends from 60-feet in the air before opening up into a shaded canopy perfect for gathering.

How did the unusual art piece get its shape? We chatted casually with Renner to learn more about Flying Carpet and carnivorous plants.


Q: When you prepare a proposal for a public art project, what kinds of things do you consider?

Patrick Renner: I would preface my answer by acknowledging that I’ve always been fascinated by architecture. A lot of my work is made from architectural references. So before anything, I consider the space and what’s surrounding it: How can I complement and play off what’s already there so that my work juxtaposes dialogue and/or creates tension.

How the work will be viewed matters. Who will view the work matters.

In Montrose, Funnel Tunnel was viewed from the ground in an established residential community. In Downtown Houston for Art Blocks, Trumpet Flower will be seen from tall buildings and by pedestrians in what promises to be an engaging destination.


Q: Your work often includes repurposed materials. Why is that important to you?

Patrick: As most artists do, I’ve written numerous artist statements over the years as I refined my ideas and interests. While I don’t subscribe to any kind of religious canon, I’m fascinated by the ideas of Buddhism, whether as a religion or philosophy.

I like the idea of something cyclical, something that can be reincarnated as another form or another energy.  In my work, using repurposed architectural materials means giving them another phase in their life. In the case of wood, from organic matter to processed for one purposes to being reimagined for another.

Also, to honor a resource that has fallen into disuse and disrepair is a noble thing to do. To shine a light on it and bring it back into some kind of value is very appealing to me.


Q: There’s an unknown in sourcing these types of materials. There are also more unknowns when you bring the public into the creative process. In welcoming so many variables into the creation of your pieces, are you also inviting a high level of risk? 

Patrick: You say risk, I say opportunity. People tend to engage more genuinely with something they’ve helped create. When it comes to public art, isn’t engagement one of the goals?

Q: Sure it. What did you learn from Funnel Tunnel ?

Patrick: I had no idea how interesting and fruitful Funnel Tunnel would be. It was an overwhelmingly beautiful and enjoyable experience to be able to talk to so many people that I wouldn’t ordinarily get a chance to interact with. I also felt that there’s a deeper connection to my work. It’s much harder to do that in exhibition settings. People look and move on.


Q: Talk about the name of your sculpture for Art Blocks. What’s Trumpet Flower all about?

Patrick: It has actually gone through a couple of revisions although the creative thread has remained the same through the evolution of the  main idea. Initially, Trumpet Flower started as a mutation of Funnel Tunnel. I envisioned something organic and flowing to contrast a setting filled with linear architecture.

Initially, it was called Pitcher Plant. This type of carnivorous species draws its pray in. We wanted to do the same with the public — without eating them, of course. As we reworked the shape to be more slender, it resembled a Trumpet Flower more closely. It turned out to be a very dynamic design with plenty of engineering challenges.

The project became the inaugural of a collective with two good friends — Nick Moser and Kelly O’Brien. As Flying Carpet, we have some big projects on the horizon, but to get to launch our collective with Art Blocks is a great opportunity.


Q: How do you feel about the arts scene in Houston?

Patrick: I feel like we have a lot going on right now. My impression is that things are really blossoming. It’s inclusive, and people help promote one another.


Q: Why did Art Blocks appeal to you?

Patrick: It’s always an honor to install something in the heart of the city — and Main Street Square is just that. I’m curious to see people’s reaction to our work while interacting with a different facet of the city. That my work has the potential to to function as a catalyst that brings people in who might not oridinarily visit this area, well, that’s just very cool.

At the end, I hope Trumpet Flower reshapes how people look at things.