4 Dec 2012: British inventor Rob Higgs, who currently resides with his family in a wooden fishing boat that’s moored on a creek in the quiet seaside town of Cornwall, England, likes to build things with his hands. In 2009, the 37-year-old made the world’s largest corkscrew – it can open and pour wine bottles. That gadget took him three years to make and has been replicated in 25 limited editions, one of which is being sold in Singapore for a staggering $220,000.
Tell us a bit about ‘The Corkscrew’.
The original one was made of old iron and steel found in scrap yards, junk piles, farm yards, steam ships, dumps, fishing boats, flea markets, beaches… I started making it in the summer of 2006 and originally planned to spend six weeks on it. I finished three years later. Making it pour without spilling a drop took a year or so. I tried so many different ways – spinning the bottle, twisting it, chasing the glass, but got it in the end. It has 341 separate pieces, not including nuts and bolts. Each one is different. This one [in Singapore] is made of bronze.
What inspired you to create it?
I am inspired by the ingenuity of our society, yet baffled by our obsession with labour-saving devices and our need for gadgets. So I like to take these things to an extreme to have a bit of fun with them.
Have you built anything like this in the past?
I’ve never made anything like this before. All my jobs are very different. I’ve made everything from huge eight-ton, ten metre-high nutcracking contraptions and miniature robots to theatre props, comedy mouse traps, man traps… [continues to list about 50 other inventions]. This is the first time my work has ever been replicated, so I was hesitant at first as to whether it would retain its solidity and happy that it has done so. Prior to ‘The Corkscrew’, my works have always been one-offs as they are made from numerous found objects and therefore unrepeatable.
It seems like you’re quite the engineer – what’s your background?
My grandad started the engineering thing designing and building trains and planes, my dad carried it on. I grew up in an industrial city near London before escaping to the coast in beautiful Cornwall. I didn’t get on with the academic route, so I moved to the sea, bought an old wooden fishing boat up a creek, where I now live with my wife and two boys. I started making machines for a laugh, which people then started buying. I have my workshop in the boatyard in a shipping container and an open-sided shack full of old metal treasure where I build my contraptions.
‘The Corkscrew’ is on display at an art gallery – would you consider it art?
I think a tool or machine is art if someone feels a connection with it. We all appreciate well-made or beautiful things, whether it’s a spanner or a bird’s nest. I don’t like the ‘is it art’ question for this reason. I’d like to think that people can see the beauty of it, but also understand the nonsense of it all as well – the pointlessness of building such a complex machine for a simple task and also the irony of making it out of scrap metal as a statement about our excess, and then recreating it at incredible complexity and cost from solid bronze. I think on the whole, art gets taken way too seriously, so having a little fun with it is important.