In a former German submarine base in Bordeaux, a most spectacular sensory digital art venue now resides: the Bassins des Lumières.
The base was built from 1940-1943 to house multiple U-boats and submersibles. This is a truly vast concrete space, some 600,000 cubic metres was used to construct it. And it is now the largest digital art centre in the world – hosting astounding immersive exhibitions.
Tailor-made sound and light experiences are created to fill the voluminous space using state of the art technology to bring the art of the greatest artists in history, as well as contemporary artists, to life. Extraordinary displays drench the huge walls with light and colour, it is all around you, and reflected in the water that fills the pools.
What to see at Bassins des Lumières
A nice walk to reach the venue is via Qaui Lawton from the Cite du Vin, another major attraction in the city. The tram stop for Cite du vin is the nearest stop to the Bassins des Lumières (or take bus no 9 from the city centre). You’ll walk through an area which has also been transformed in recent years. Once somewhat neglected, it’s now an arty area with bars, restaurants and hotels opening up. And there’s a spaceship! The 55 feet wide ‘life-sized’ UFO was created by British artist Susanne Treister. It makes you stop in your tracks as you wander past. The walk takes around 30 minutes. You’ll see the colossal submarine pens pretty much the whole way from the start of the waterways (Bassins a Flot No. 1 where the spaceship sits in the water and No.2).
You enter the exhibition space via the original, heavy door. Step into an isolated and soundproofed area, and find yourself in a dark echoey space. As you walk along the former gangways and along the quays you almost feel that you are virtually in the artwork. The shows take place throughout the day, with art portrayed in six different parts of the base.
Immense, immersive, incredible…
It is a surprisingly sensory and almost spiritual experience. It’s haunting even, emotional at times as you are cocooned in the dark surrounded by extraordinary beauty as music plays, the notes surround you, bouncing from the walls, ceiling and pools. Suddenly you find yourself immersed in the heart of art you may have seen in books or museums. Images of people you’ve seen in paintings are somehow made more human in their larger than life size appearance. Faces look more real. You see details that are easy to miss in a small image as the art is revealed in this huge scale space. Sometimes the art is full of motion, making it feel more like a video. More than 100 powerful projectors create an astounding spectacle.
I stood before a portrait of Mary holding Jesus and it seemed so much more tangible. Suddenly it wasn’t just a religious painting, you can see the look of love a mother has for her baby. It was a powerful, mesmerising image. Immersive art like this holds your focus. It makes you feel that these were real people in a way a painting doesn’t always achieve.
The art is immense in every sense. The light flows over and around you. Paintings, portraits, scenes of life lived long ago or somewhere else, buildings and people, come to bright vivid life.
The exhibitions change regularly and feature the most famous and artists in history, as well as contemporary artists like Klimt (see video below).
The Bassins des Lumières is one of the top sites to visit in Bordeaux – spectacular, unique and unmissable.
Find out more at: bassins-lumieres.com