‘It’s going to divide opinion’: Huge Weston-super-Mare facility opens | Art

It overlooks the Grand Pier and makes the waterfront Ferris wheel look tiny. As it took shape on the beach at Weston-super-Mare, See Monster – a disused North Sea gas platform converted into one of the UK’s largest public art installations – has caused a heady mix of head-scratching, interest and anger.

Finally, after delays due to the vagaries of the extreme weather this summer (too hot at times, too windy at others), visitors are invited this weekend to board on board.

Patrick O’Mahony, the project’s creative director, agreed that the piece might not be to everyone’s taste. “We knew this was going to divide opinion. I’d rather people like him or hate him than be indifferent. There’s nothing worse than doing something that people don’t react to.

The installation is the ninth produced as part of the Unboxed: Creativity in the UK series – aka the Festival of Brexit – which has drawn widespread criticism and ridicule, not least because of the cost of the project: a whopping £120million for the taxpayers of the four British nations.

O’Mahony said he was sad that Unboxed was mocked. “We are close to the other nine commissions. Art and entertainment has been through a very difficult time and getting this level of investment into the industry has been incredible. Years of work have gone into these projects. People should be judged on work.

People have been judging See Monster ever since the 450 tonne rig was hauled into the city of Somerset in July, transported from the North Sea on a barge larger than a football pitch. The scale makes it hard to ignore – at 35 meters it is 15 meters taller than the Angel of the North.

Artists, engineers and gardeners have created a 10-meter high waterfall, representing the roar of the monster, and 6,000 pieces of aluminum that shimmer in the wind like the scales of a mythical beast. The platform’s 16-meter crane jib is the creature’s neck and head.

The public will be welcomed on board for the first time from Saturday. Photograph: Ben Birchall/PA

Other features include a cloud machine, tree and herb garden, sculptures, and contraptions that generate renewable energy to power at least part of the facility. BBC Radio sailing forecasts are broadcast from the helipad at the top, which offers wonderful views over the rolling hills of Somerset, Devon and South Wales.

The idea is to provoke conversations on topics such as how industrial structures could be repurposed, how the world needs to move away from fossil fuels, sustainability and the UK weather.

Ironies abound. Notably the fact that renewables are a key theme at this government-backed facility – but UK Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg has made it clear he wants to extract ‘every last cubic inch of gas’ from the North Sea, using platforms like this.

Ella Gilbert, a climatologist at the British Antarctic Survey and an adviser to See Monster, would not directly criticize the UK government but said: “The science is very clear. We need to move away from fossil fuels. We need to dramatically increase our climate change ambition. It’s a creative way to illustrate how we do it.

Another irony is that while sustainability is another theme, See Monster’s stay in Weston will be very brief. It is feared that its imposing presence will have a negative impact on the waders that winter here, so in early November it will be closed.

New homes for plants and artwork will be found, but the platform itself will be cut up and the parts trucked in 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 he’s gone, it’s hoped See Monster will provide Weston with the same lift as Banksy’s Dismaland – a twisted version of Disneyland – in 2015.

“It’s brought a different kind of tourist to Weston,” said Walter Byron, who acts as See Monster’s host. “I would like him to stay and put a restaurant on top.”

A second host, Sarah Windall, who also works as a substitute teacher, said: “There has been a lot of scepticism. Some people complain that the money comes from their taxes, but I think it’s a smart way to look to the future through art.

Among those watching the final touches to the monster was Elaine Day, a Weston resident celebrating her 76th birthday with a trip to see how the work was progressing.

“It’s something different,” she said. “I think it’s good for the city. People come here on vacation and say, “What’s that thing up there? This puts Weston on the map.

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