Towering over the Grand Pier, it dwarfs the big wheel on the boardwalk. See Monster – a disused North Sea gas platform transformed into one of the UK’s largest public art installations – has provoked a heady mix of head scratching, interest and anger on the beach at Weston-super-Mare.
Finally, after delays caused by the vagaries of this summer’s extreme weather (sometimes too hot, sometimes too windy), this weekend visitors are invited to climb aboard.
Patrick O’Mahony, the project’s creative director, accepted that the play would not be to everyone’s liking. “We knew there would be divided opinions. I’d rather people love it or hate it than be indifferent. There’s nothing worse than doing something that people don’t react to.”
The installation is the ninth to be produced as part of the Unboxed: Creativity in the UK series – also known as the Festival of Brexit – which has drawn widespread criticism and ridicule, not least because of the cost of the project: a whopping £120million Pounds for the taxpayers of the four British nations.
O’Mahony said he was sad that Unboxed had been mocked. “We are close to the other nine commissions. Arts and entertainment have had a very tough time and it has been amazing to see this level of investment in the sector. Years of work have gone into these projects. People should be judged by their work.”
People have been judging See Monster since the 450-tonne platform was towed to the city of Somerset in July, transported from the North Sea on a barge larger than a football field. Its size makes it difficult to miss – at 35 meters it is 15 meters taller than the Angel of the North.
Artists, engineers and gardeners have created a 10-meter-tall waterfall depicting the monster’s roar and 6,000 pieces of aluminum that shimmer in the wind like the scales of a mythical animal. The platform’s 16 meter long crane boom is the creature’s neck and head.
Other features include a cloud machine, a garden of trees and grasses, sculptures, and devices that generate renewable energy to power at least part of the installation. BBC Radio’s shipping forecast is broadcast on the helipad at the top, which offers wonderful views of the Somerset, Devon and South Wales hills.
The idea is to provoke conversations on issues such as transforming industrial structures, moving away from fossil fuels, sustainability and the UK weather.
Ironies abound. Last but not least, the fact that renewable energy is a key theme at this state-subsidized facility – but UK Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg has made it clear he wants to get “every last cubic centimeter of gas” out of the North Sea with platforms like this.
Ella Gilbert, climate scientist at British Antarctic Survey and advisor to See Monster, would not criticize the UK government directly, but said: “The science is very clear. We need to get off fossil fuels. We need to drastically increase our ambition on climate change. This is a creative way of showing how we do it.”
Another irony is that while sustainability is another issue, See Monster’s stay in Weston will be very brief. There are concerns that its massive presence could have a negative impact on the wading birds that winter here, so it will close in early November.
New houses for the plants and the artwork are found, but the platform itself is cut up and the pieces hauled away for recycling. The creators insist that while their monster will disappear, the lessons they’ve learned will be used by people around the world to turn disused platforms into art installations, hotels or diving platforms.
Until it goes away, it’s hoped that See Monster will give Weston the same boost it did to Banksy’s Dismaland – a twisted version of Disneyland – in 2015.
“It brought a different kind of tourist to Weston,” said Walter Byron, who serves as the host of See Monster. “I want it to stay and build a restaurant upstairs.”
A second host, Sarah Windall, who also works as a teaching assistant, said: “There was a lot of skepticism. Some people complain that the money for it comes from their taxes, but I think it’s a smart way to see the future through art.”
Elaine Day, a Weston resident who celebrated her 76th birthday with a trip to see how work was progressing, was among the onlookers who watched as the finishing touches were put on the monster.
“It’s something different,” she said. “I think it’s good for the city. People come here on their vacations and say, ‘What’s that thing up there?’ It puts Weston on the map.”