It looks high above the Grand Pier and makes the big wheel on the beach look tiny. As it has taken shape on the beach at Weston-super-Mare, See Monster – a decommissioned North Sea gas platform turned into one of the UK’s largest public art installations – has sparked a heady mix of scratching, interest and outrage.
Finally, after delays caused by the vagaries of this summer’s extreme weather (too hot at times, too windy at others), guests are being invited this weekend to climb aboard.
Patrick O’Mahony, the project’s creative director, accepted that the piece would not be to everyone’s taste. “We knew it would divide opinion. I’d rather people love it or hate it than be indifferent. There’s nothing worse than doing something that people don’t respond to.”
The installation is the ninth to be produced as part of the Unboxed: Creativity in UK series – also known as the Festival of Brexit – which has attracted widespread criticism and ridicule, not least because of the cost of the project: a whopping £120m for taxpayers four nations of the united kingdom.
O’Mahony said he was saddened that Unboxed was mocked. “We are close to the other nine procurements. Arts and entertainment have gone through very difficult times and to have this level of investment in the sector was amazing. Years of work have gone into these projects. People should be judged by their work.”
People have been judging the See Monster since the 450-tonne platform arrived in Somerset in July, transported from the North Sea on a barge bigger than a football pitch. The scale makes it hard to ignore – at 35m, it’s 15m taller than the Angel of the North.
Artists, engineers and gardeners created a 10m high waterfall, representing the monster’s roar, and 6,000 pieces of aluminum that shimmer in the wind like the scales of a mythical beast. The platform’s 16-meter-long crane arm is the creature’s neck and head.
Other features include a cloud machine, a garden of trees and grasses, sculptures and machines that generate renewable energy to power at least part of the facility. The BBC radio marine forecast is carried to the helipad at the top, which offers wonderful views over the hills of Somerset, Devon and south Wales.
The idea is to spark debate on topics such as how industrial structures could be redefined, how the world should move away from fossil fuels, sustainability and British weather.
There are many ironies. Renewable energy is a key theme of this government-backed installation – but UK Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg has made it clear he wants to squeeze “every last cubic inch of natural gas” from the North Sea . using platforms like this.
Ella Gilbert, a climatologist at the British Antarctic Survey and adviser to See Monster, would not criticize the UK government directly, but said: “The science is very clear. We need to move away from fossil fuels. We need to dramatically raise our ambitions on climate change. This is a creative way to show how we do that.”
Another irony is that while sustainability is another matter, the See Monster’s stay in Weston will be very short. There are concerns that its massive presence could have a negative impact on the birds that winter here, so in early November it will be closed.
New homes will be found for the plants and artwork, but the platform itself will be cut up and the pieces will be trucked away to be recycled. The builders insist that while their monster will be gone, the lessons learned will be used by people around the world to turn the disused platforms into art installations, hotels or diving platforms.
By the time it’s gone, we hope See Monster will give Weston the same boost that Banksy’s Dismaland – a twisted version of Disneyland – did in 2015.
“This has brought a different type of tourist to Weston,” said Walter Byron, who acts as the host of See Monster. “I would like him to stay and put a restaurant on top.”
A second host, Sarah Windall, who also works as a supply teacher, said: “There was a lot of scepticism. Some people complain that the money for this comes from their taxes, but I think it’s a smart way to look to the future through art.”
Among those watching as the finishing touches were put on the monster was Elaine Day, a Weston resident who was celebrating her 76th birthday with a trip to see how the work was progressing.
“It’s something different,” he said. “I think it’s good for the city. People would come here on vacation and say, “What’s that up there?” It puts Weston on the map.”