(Above) Simon Faithfull's Fake Moon rises above Preston bus station
Preston bus station is hardly the sort of idyllic setting usually associated with skygazing. In January, the City Council took the unusual step of applauding a government decision not to list the 1960s building, calling it an "eyesore" as they pressed on with plans to replace it.
But last Friday and Saturday, artist Simon Faithfull finally gave the structure an evening of glory, enticing unprecedented crowds to the 80-bay monster and putting it in the company of one of the UK’s coolest music festivals in the process.
Faithfull specialises in creating a Fake Moon made out of a gigantic balloon running on fuel and, having just opened a major show of his work at the nearby Harris Museum and Gallery, the subversive artist found his dream space at the dilapidated bus shelter.
"I looked at various sites in Preston and that was the one that really stood out," he says. "It was the perfect location because I wanted a long stretch, but obviously doing it down on street level within the city might have been difficult.
"The length of that bus station, that sort of modernist, brutalist shelter with a Holiday Inn at the end, was fantastic. It gave a 200-metre stretch where the moon was organised so that it rose, gave an arc across the sky and then set again."
Unsuspecting locals joined clued-up art fans to gaze at the lunar apparition
Eagle-eyed North-West art fans and bemused local passers-by pitched up to see the shining imposter rising above the Lancashire rooftops.
"It was quite a spectacle," says Faithfull. "Because I was taking photographs people wondered if I knew something about it.
"I didn’t say 'yes, I did it', and therefore I got some really nice, frank responses. People stumbled across it and thought it was great.
"Why it was being done was still a mystery to them, but it was enough of an unexpected apparition that people went along with it."
Faithfull had sneakily tested his lunar invention under the cover of daylight.
"We did a dress rehearsal during the day so that we wouldn't draw attention to it," he recalls.
"We needed to check out the height of the balloon and the path that it would take. We also needed to fire up the lights to work out how long it could run for on one tank of petrol.
"Some people might have seen it, but it wouldn't have drawn attention to itself in the same way as a massively powerful light at night would have."
This wasn't the first Fake Moon – it started out in 2008, and has visited the more right-on backdrop of The Big Chill festival.
Fake Moon has also appeared at The Big Chill festival
"That also worked really well," reflects Faithfull. "It was a very convincing fake moon against a background of people having drunk a bit, so there was this quite hallucinatory feel – 'is that the moon or not? It looks like the moon but it's wobbling a little bit.' All in a very rural, bucolic setting."
A real innovator, Faithfull has tried numerous experiments in his time, including attempts to literally trace the Greenwich meridian with a line and, in his show at the Harris, following crows across the world in an eerie mirroring of societal trends.
"It's a little bit as if I’m some sort of pseudo scientist," he finishes. "But actually a misguided, quite absurd one."
Simon Faithfull: Recent Findings is at the Harris Museum and Art Gallery in Preston until June 5 2010. Visit the exhibition online for more details and video interviews with Simon.