You can’t fail to see See Monster, the 450-tonne decommissioned oil rig towering over the tide at Weston-super-Mare. Thirty-five metres of steel adorned with hawthorn and a waterfall and shimmering aluminium scales puncture the skyline as soon as you hit the seafront; a behemoth placed upon the beach, designed to stoke conversations about sustainability, British weather and – perhaps less overtly – whether public art can ever justify a £120 million price-tag.
See Monster is the ninth of 10 installations making up Unboxed: Creativity in the UK, a post-Brexit project designed to show off British innovation. It has been disparagingly dubbed the “Festival of Brexit”, and much has been made of its taxpayer-funded failures: 238,000 visitors recorded as of last month, versus a projected 66 million. But despite its two-month opening delay, the Monster is an impressive beast, whether you’re viewing it from a distance or standing atop any of its four platforms. Here lies ambition – even in the hours before its long-awaited public debut, where I find errant metal poles piled in corners, and a section of grid flooring still loose.
The Monster is the work of NEWSUBSTANCE, a Leeds-based creative studio whose idea to haul a football-pitch-sized barge to the Somerset seaside began several years ago. Dredging up a rig last housed in the North Sea – requisite paperwork for which did not exist when the idea was conceived – is their bid to meld environmentalism with art; repurposing the old to make something new. It’s not the first such experiment on their chosen site – Weston’s disused Tropicana lido was home to Banksy’s Dismaland in 2015, a theme park “unsuitable for children” that went on to recycle the materials used for its dystopian rides.
See Monster’s attempt to hammer home the importance of renewables and reuse is far less grim; here the concept of sustainability is transformed into an all-ages playground. The platforms are connected by a series of stairways, leading from an evergreen Garden Lab, lush with oleasters, to an amphitheatre (formerly the rig’s helipad) on the top deck where environment-themed events will take place. WindNest, two rotating airborne pods designed by artist Trevor Lee, power the irrigation system for the plants, creating a mini-ecosystem which, since the rig washed up on Weston’s shore in July, has seen the arrival of bees, snails and a grasshopper. The environmental advantages of the giant slide connecting the top deck to the level below is less clear, but it adds a playful twist to a conversation that so often tends towards the po-faced.
Even if its eco-message does not entirely cut through, this is the better end of public art: a supersized spectacle in equal parts immersive and unusual (and, importantly, free). Its biggest downfall? That it will only be open to the public for six weeks. After that, its fate remains unknown. For all its talk of sustainability, See Monster’s life already feels short-lived.
Until November 5. Info: seemonster.co.uk