The UK Government’s £120m nationwide Unboxed festival has commenced today with a spectacular sound and light show in the grounds of an 850-year-old Scottish abbey.

The free open-air event, About Us, was created by 59 Productions, The Poetry Society and Stemettes. It is the first of a series of 10 events to be held throughout the UK this year as part of the Unboxed: Creativity in the UK festival.

Previously known as Festival UK* 2022 and known colloquially as the Festival of Brexit, the initiative was instigated by the UK Government following the Brexit referendum result. The aim of the festival is to celebrate ingenuity in arts, science, engineering, technology and maths.

About Us opened today, 1 March, at Paisley Abbey. It features LED video installations, live projection-mapped animation, poetry and music including live choirs and a new score by Nitin Sawhney CBE. 59 Production said the show, which will also be presented in Derry-Londonderry, Caernarfon, Luton and Hull, combines multimedia installations and live performance with the aim of immersing audiences in the history of the universe, from the Big Bang to the present day

59 Productions’ previous work includes the London 2012 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony, stage show War Horse and the David Bowie Is exhibition at the V&A Museum. It has also been involved in creating public artworks, projection-mapping iconic buildings including the Sydney Opera House, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao and the Washington Monument.

The company’s director Lysander Ashton said, “About Us has been a unique collaborative process bringing together poets, scientists, musicians, visual artists and school children from across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. All of these unique voices have contributed to create a dazzlingly rich composite view of the extraordinary universe we all share.”

The Unboxed projects will take place across the UK until October. They include:

  • Dandelion, commissioned by EventScotland, a Scotland-wide project inspired by the global ‘grow-your-own’ movement, featuring Unexpected Gardens, vertical farms, free music festivals and plant giveaways that reimagines the harvest festival for the 21st century
  • Dreamachine, presented in the UK’s capital cities, an artwork experienced with your eyes closed that unlocks the power of the human mind
  • GALWAD: A Story from our Future, a transmedia experience that sees Wales propelled thirty years into the future, commissioned by CreativeWales
  • Green Space Dark Skies, with 20,000 ‘Lumenators’ creating outdoor artworks in 20 of the UK’s National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty
  • Our Place in Space, a 10km sculpture trail scale model of the solar system designed by artist Oliver Jeffers including an interactive augmented reality app, commissioned by Belfast City Council
  • PoliNations will see giant fabricated trees and thousands of plants take over the centre of Birmingham, creating a colourful canopy for a festival of live performance including spoken word, music and drag
  • SEE MONSTER, a decommissioned North Sea offshore platform in Weston-super-Mare transformed into one of the UK’s largest public artworks
  • StoryTrails, which uses new developments in 3D internet technology and augmented and virtual reality to reveal the hidden and forgotten histories across 15 UK towns and cities
  • Tour de Moon, a festival of nightlife and countercultures travelling in convoy around England