Hinterland gets Festival of Architecture off to a dramatic start

NVA's event at St Peter's Seminary in Cardross marks the beginning of a long-term cultural development

The word ‘hinterland’ has mystical connotations: a world unknown, beyond the beyond, something or somewhere intangible. It encapsulates perfectly the magical experience that members of the public are invited to for the launch of Scotland’s Festival of Architecture 2016 at the ruined St Peter's Seminary near Cardross.

Developed by public art specialists NVA – whose Speed of Light has toured the world – Hinterland is brilliantly orchestrated. Buses pick up an excitable hundred-strong crowd in Helensburgh and whisk them off through the darkness down quiet suburban streets, finally veering off into rough terrain, hurtling towards their mysterious destination.

On arrival, the expedition of architecture-lovers and adventurers lead themselves through the atmospheric semi-ancient woods aided by illuminated climbing sticks provided on arrival by enthusiastic NVA volunteers. Glimpses of the A listed Brutalist seminary can be glimpsed through the branches, lit up dramatically by polychromatic projections.

Nearing the structure itself, it is impossible not to be swept up in the spectacle of light and sound. ‘Brought to life’ doesn’t do justice to the work carried out by the team of artists and technicians. Sharp edges and reliefs shift before our eyes, light rushes through cavities only to be extinguished moments later; a graffitied eye can be seen peeping through stories of concrete.

The main performance inside hypnotises a captive audience. An enormous thurible swings in the middle of the central chapel like a giant pendulum accompanied by the ethereal recorded sound of the St Salvator’s Chapel Choir. Performers in workers' costumes repeat strange rituals, tending to the smoking receptacle and welding a metal object within the watery parameters of the cavernous space. An awesome light show penetrates the darkness using the architectural skeleton as a canvas on which to paint sweeping areas of light that seem to melt the distinction between fore- and background.

This is just the beginning for the regeneration of St Peter's – alongside a team of architects, NVA will lead the development of the space as a new 600-capacity cultural resource and venue to open in 2018. Hopefully, Hinterland is a taster of the brilliant things to come.

St Peter's Seminary, Cardross, until Sun 27 March.

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