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PoliNations project for Unboxed festival
Photograph: Courtesy of THISS, Carl Robertshaw, Bronia Housman

The Festival of Brexit finally has a real name – and a surprisingly good programme

‘UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK’ is taking place across the UK in 2022

Andrzej Lukowski
Written by
Andrzej Lukowski
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Remember former UK prime minister Theresa May? Remember she announced a UK-wide 2022 festival that befuddled Victorian ghost Jacob Rees-Mogg dubbed the ‘festival of Brexit’? Remember (okay, you probably don’t remember this bit) how it was in fact given the hysterically lame interim name Festival UK 2022? 

Well, great news: it’s now got a name and that name is… UnboxedOr to give it its full name, Unboxed: Creativity in the UK. (Or if you’re an absolute stickler for their chosen format, ‘UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK’).

Despite the interventions of Rees-Mogg, who actually died in 1874, the question of the festival’s exact relationship with Brexit remains a thorny one: Martin Green, its CEO, has strongly denied any connection whatsoever with Britain’s endlessly divisive departure from the EU. Critics, meanwhile, have suggested that A) this is bollocks, and B) how does this thing have a £120 million budget at a time when the UK arts are struggling due to both the pandemic and, of course, Brexit? At the absolute minimum, the latter has thrown a massive spanner in the works vis-à-vis international touring and collaboration. 

The name is probably not going to reassure people. So, the box was… freedom of movement? Officially, anyway, that’s not the case: the festival programme, which has just been announced, is based on the idea of various disciplines – science, technology, engineering, arts and maths – getting out of their BOXES (see!??!) and joining forces to deliver a rousing demonstration of British prowess that has PURELY COINCIDENTAL TIMING.

This all accepted, anybody expecting the festival to simply be Brian Blessed bellowing ‘Rule Britannia’ into a very big microphone or somesuch will probably be fairly disappointed. 

It’s a series of ten large-scale projects across the UK that are, in essence, pretty cool: ‘See Monster’, in Weston-super-Mare, is a decommissioned oil platform turned into a public art project celebrating the British weather; ‘PoliNations’ will see a huge immersive forest take over the centre of Birmingham; the five city-spanning ‘About Us’ will be a spectacular celebration of the entire history of the universe since the Big Bang from projection-based theatre whizzes 59 Productions. That sort of thing.

In true Brexit fashion – although definitely not – London is largely ignored, which is kind of fair enough insofar as it is so over-resourced compared to the rest of the UK generally, although it’s always worth remembering that it accounts for more than 13 percent of the UK population. In any case, that sole show looks intriguing: ‘Dreamachine’ is an immersive artwork, based on a 1959 invention by radical artist Brion Gysin, that basically used flickering light to make audiences hallucinate. This new incarnation from Turner-winning art ensemble Assemble, musician Jon Hopkins and a team of scientists and philosophers from Glasgow and Sheffield universities will aim to make you trip your balls off with your eyes closed – if we’re reading the press release right. 

And really, what have the last five years been about if not closing our eyes tight and willing the trip that is contemporary British politics to subside? Although also, it’s not about that. Definitely.

In any case, it should be interesting, and just as one imagines certain gammon-hued patriots will be aghast at almost half of the promised weekly Brexit NHS dividend being spent on a load of esoteric large-scale art projects, so one might hope that even people who fervently disagree with Unboxed’s very existence will be able to keep a reasonably open mind regarding the art itself.

For more information, head to unboxed2022.uk. The festival will take place in various locations across the UK from March 1 to October 2 2022.

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