Welcome to See Monster!

The oil platform turned art installation at Weston-Super-Mare
24 October 2022

Interview with 

Patrick O'Mahony, NEWSUBSTANCE


See Monster


The rig, which once harvested the natural resources buried deep under the North Sea, has been turned into an art installation that goes by the name of See Monster...

James - Hopefully the mic's picking me up here at a very windy Western-Super-Mare. Will, why have you dragged us down here? What are we doing here?

Will - I'm glad you asked. We're here at the new installation called See Monster at Western-Super-Mare. A decommissioned oil platform has been pulled into the coastal side of the town. It's a remarkable sort of visage on the landscape. It's this huge platform, it's one hell of a statement.

James - Well. What are we waiting for?

Patrick - My name's Patrick O'Mahony. I'm creative director and founder at NewSubstance, the studio that led the development of See Monster. So what we're looking at today is the 36 meter high gas platform that we reclaim from the North Sea. And for the first time in the world, reimagined it into a large-scale installation, looking at conversations around reuse, around renewable energy and the great British weather.

James - A gas platform you say from the North Sea. We're in Weston-Super-Mare, here in the west of England. How the hell did you get it here?

Patrick - The rig was originally sited, once we were taken out the North Sea, in the Netherlands. We had the joy of then bringing it into Western-Super-Mare. Western-Super-Mare having, I think, the second highest tidal range in the whole world or something ridiculous. So we sailed it here, had to wait for a very specific tidal window, in each month, which is around the 11th, so we could bring the barge as far up the beach as possible. The whole thing, we did it over four days in the end. So, a huge piece of theater, I suppose in my mind, in itself. In the same way we're reusing the rig and that had a previous life. It was quite a nice parallel since the way the 'Trop' (Tropicana) had this big previous life as the Lido and we were having an opportunity to reimagine it as a kind of a new arts destination in itself.

Maya - My name is Maya and I thought the See Monster was just magnificent. It's so tall and like the waterfall is just crazy.

James - Is that your favorite bit? The waterfall?

Maya - I love it. Well the slide was very cool.

Mary - Hi, my name is Mary. It just wows me because of the solar tree that's in the garden lab I think. It produces almost all of the solar power that's up there. It's so fun to come on a school trip and just see it in person. Cause I've never been to it before. And then the scales, there's so many. They said that the original thing came from the Northern Sea, I think it was.

James - Yeah, the North Sea

Mary - And then the light bulbs, it looks really mythical in the Garden lab area and at the top. I think it's called the Heli Deck. Yeah, I think it is. Yeah. You could see it as Western from a different perspective.

Leslie - Hello, my name's Leslie Pattington. I'm one of the hosts on the See Monster

Walter - And I work with Leslie. And my name's Walter Byron, again in the host role.

Leslie - So this is my favorite deck. And because you have the most magnificent, spectacular view of Western that you haven't really got any other way. This is our space that was designed for contemplation. So the scales, there are 6,000 of them and they're anodized aluminum and they're hexagonal in shape. And the idea behind that was that they are the scales of the monster.

James - People might just be able to pick up our listeners on the dulcet tones coming out of the speakers dotted around this top deck.

Leslie - So the shipping forecast was designed by Admiral Fitzroy and it was really to protect the ships from being marooned on rocks. And it's had several iterations ever since. And they are broadcast on radio and then they go through in a particular manner with a speed and a rhythm of the words, which is really very soothing.

James - On our way up here, we got a bit of a shower from something that resembled a sprinkler system. What's the message behind that?

Walter - Well that's on our seller deck. You've got to ask the principal ‘why is a monster here?’ As an educational platform, we're looking at sustainability, we're looking at repurposing of old industry and also the British weather. So we are trying to regenerate clouds. Now, the problem we have at Western-Super-Mare, the clouds get blown away. It's quite windy here on our seafront, but we're still using it to teach, especially the school kids when they're coming in on tours, about the different types of clouds, how they shape our environment. Again, if you've gotta have a monster and the monster's moving, it needs to spit on people too. So I hope that you had it in mind when you got wet there. <laugh>

Patrick - The principle of reuse and the rig itself. No one looks at disused rigs and things, Oh that will make a great art installation. We've got to where we are because of structures like that. And to position that in a provocative way, you start conversations about be it big industrial structures like this, be it barges, be it power stations, be it rigs themselves. These structures all exist as a part of our history. I want people to smile at people to be inspired by the scale of it, the ambition of it. And another big core was around renewable energy. So we've got the garden lab, which is the second to top deck, a new piece in solar and a new piece in wind power generation. And we worked with consultants originally who were suggesting your usual big white wind turbines and new solar sheets. Because right now they're by far the most efficient way of any generation. And that's great, but if you want to look at bigger placemaking pieces in city centers, we need arts and design to come and meet the engineers in the middle. So what we wanted to do here again is provoke that conversation in a sculptural form so people actually stop and look and ask those questions about could this be in our city? Could this be in our playground? I suppose trying to provoke that conversation. If we'd just gone for usual solar sheets and a white wind turbine, people would just walk past it and that conversation would never have started.

James - It's quite interesting you used the word provocative I think, because that's not necessarily the word I was going to go with. I definitely see what you mean. I don't know if you saw over the weekend what happened at the National Gallery with the tomato soup flung over the sunflowers and I think in the end there wasn't any damage actually done to the painting. So that was more of the provocative way of getting that message across because these topics that you're trying to get people to think about renewables, circular economy, I feel like it's been quite a different approach. Maybe am I on the right lines there?

Patrick - You know, we wanted people to love the project. Obviously, we didn't do this to try and be divisive in that process. But we had it in the town itself. We had great support, but we also had people saying, why on earth are they bringing a big structure like this? And then when we opened, I think people had a very different reaction once they went on it. You could see the big wild garden at the top, you know? So I think that was always our intention. We always wanted to become part of Western-Super-Mare and, you know, part of the community and loved in that process. But we knew it was going to be a little bit bumpy along the way.

James - And Patrick finally we'd be remiss not to ask, given the conversations you're trying to start with this project, what's going to happen at the end of the exhibition?

Patrick - We were always commissioned for a certain period of time. So we close on the 5th of November at the moment, and then we basically analyze the rig. There's kind of a number of different aspects of legacy. So the garden, all the trees and the plants and the planters all go to a new home. Same with the solar and all the sculptural pieces. And then at the moment, the entire rig is fully recycled. It goes back into a decommissioning cycle and recycles all the steel. What we always intended was this was like blueprint number one as See Monster number one. And now we're starting to see the benefit of that. You know, we had a conversation last week. Somebody wants to use one as a bird sanctuary and somebody wants to use it as an art gallery and start to help them, give them the tools from our blueprints, kind of go forward and then do their own version of this.


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