Historic Scottish Abbey transformed for launch of £120m UK culture festival

A Scottish abbey more than 850 years old has been transformed by a spectacular sound and light show to kick-start the biggest ever UK-wide celebration of culture.

Paisley Abbey is playing host to About Us, a free open-air spectacular charting 130 years of history, from the “Big Bang” to the present day.

It will launch the £120 million Unboxed festival, which was instigated by the UK Government in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum vote, but has since been backed by the devolved administrations.

The week-long event in Paisley, which combines state-of-the art projection mapping technology with poetry, music and live choral singing, is billed as a celebration of the connections between the human race, the cosmos and the natural world.

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    It has been created by video artists from 59 Productions, the award-winning company that has previously worked on the opening ceremony of the London Olympics, stage show War Horse, an exhibition on pop and rock icon David Bowie and several opening night spectacles for the Edinburgh International Festival. Its work has previously transformed the Sydney Opera House, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, and the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

    About Us, which can be experienced at Paisley Abbey from 7pm-9:15pm until March 6, sees a 25-show unfold, set to an original score by award-winning composer and musician Nitin Sawhney, and featuring the work of poets Llŷr Gwyn Lewis, Jen Hadfield, Jason Allen-Paisant, Khairani Barokka, Grug Muse and Stephen Sexton.

    About Us, one of six cultural projects to be staged around Scotland, is due to go on to transform buildings and landmarks across England, Wales and Northern Ireland over the next two months.

    Lysander Ashton, creator director of About Us and a director of 59 Productions, 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.

    Paisley Abbey is playing host to the open-air spectacle About Us until 6 March. Picture: Lesley Martin

    "All of these unique voices have contributed to create a dazzlingly rich composite view of the extraordinary universe we all share.

    "About Us is an invitation to experience a world where you are made of stars. You’re built from a trillion intricate cells working in harmony, you are related to dinosaurs and you can make a connection to a billion people with the press of a button.

    "It's a celebration of some of the incredible things that make us, us. I can't wait for audiences to come and see it.”

    Martin Green, Unboxed’s chief creative officer, said: “About Us is the first of ten awe-inspiring major projects given life through creative collaboration across all sectors.

    Paisley Abbey is playing host to the open-air spectacle About Us until 6 March. Picture: Lesley Martin

    "As a result, they have created truly extraordinary audience experiences that will demonstrate the power of creativity and how important it will be to the way we work, live, learn and play in the future.

    “About Us dramatically touches on themes seen across all the projects, from mankind’s relationship with nature, responsibility for the environment and future possibilities for the planet to how people understand and interact with each other as individuals and communities.

    "Everyone involved in making Unboxed happen has been compelled to think about what is most important to all our futures and manifest this in projects designed to be fun and exciting, that will bring people together across the UK this year and provide inspiration for many years to come.”

    Paisley Abbey is playing host to the open-air spectacle About Us until 6 March. Picture: Lesley Martin
    Paisley Abbey is playing host to the open-air spectacle About Us until 6 March. Picture: Lesley Martin
    Paisley Abbey is playing host to the open-air spectacle About Us until 6 March. Picture: Lesley Martin