A fourth bronze orientation map (or “ plan-relief ” in French) was recently unveiled in Bordeaux, just in front of the Cité du Vin wine...

Bordeaux’s fourth bronze orientation map celebrates the Bassins à Flots docklands district

A fourth bronze orientation map (or “plan-relief” in French) was recently unveiled in Bordeaux, just in front of the Cité du Vin wine museum. Hurrah! Just like the first three, which are located on Place Pey-Berland, Place de la Comédie and Place du Palais, this latest public artwork was created by sculptor François Didier, and produced in conjunction with the Cyclopes foundry in Mérignac. It was entirely funded by UNADEV, Union Nationale des Aveugles et Déficients Visuels, the national association for the visually-impaired - which happens to be headquartered in Bordeaux.

Over the years, François Didier has become a bit of a regular on the blog. I first met him in 2014 at his workshop in Lugos, towards the northern tip of the Landes, to talk at length about the story behind the first three plans-reliefs, and also about the similar project conducted in the hamlet of Bages, near Pauillac. Since then, further maps have become fixtures on the landscape in Forcalquier (south-eastern France), most recently in Pau, and another is soon set to be installed in Chantilly. We met once again the following year in Gradignan to view his ambitious “Neanysa” exhibition which showcased an imaginary ancient city.

The orientation map in all its glory.
An inscription serves as a reminder that the piece was gifted to the city by UNADEV.
Which brings us on to 2020 and François’s kind invitation to attend the official unveiling of this new plan-relief - alongside various local dignitaries and UNADEV representatives - and to enjoy the privilege of being among the first to be able to view the new orientation map, which represents the ever-evolving Bassins à Flots docklands quarter, from the Base Sous-marine WW2 submarine pens to the Chaban-Delmas lift bridge. 

As much as the orientation tables are popular with audiences of all ages, it is important to remember their original raison d’être. François notes that “the work was commissioned by UNADEV so that visually-impaired visitors could get an idea of the surrounding area by touching the models. Visually-impaired correspondents contributed upstream and their input always enables me to revise my perception of what I’m seeking to represent. The end-product is, in effect, a gift from the visually-impaired to those who can see, rather than the other way round!”

From many angles the plan-relief is eminently Instagrammable.
That end-product is an attractive and pleasing interpretation of the neighbourhood: “My aim is to provide an objective depiction of the area, as seen from above, while also giving a feel of what it’s like at ground level.” As well as the converted warehouses and industrial facilities, the plan-relief seeks to highlight the many cultural establishments that have developed here in recent years: Cap Sciences science museum, the Cité du Vin wine museum, the Musée Mer Marine maritime museum, and of course the aforementioned Base Sous-Marine, which is now a renowned exhibition centre.

A close-up view of the miniature Base Sous-marine.
It wasn’t all plain sailing: “For the Chaban-Delmas lift bridge, I had to cheat a little, which is the reason why it has been portrayed simultaneously in its open and closed configurations. Had I opted for the raised bridge, the model would not have been solid enough. Had the platform been lowered, the four pillars would have seemed somewhat aggressive to visitors. As for the Cité du Vin, the challenge was to be able to depict a transparent steel and glass structure using the very opaque medium of bronze!”

The double-decker Pont Chaban-Delmas.
All the signs would suggest this latest piece will prove to be just as popular as all the others: “This is artwork which stays outside, is subject to all the elements, and yet is treated with great respect by the general public. That may be because it’s a way of celebrating the neighbourhoods and those who live there by paying close attention to their surroundings, and this is something that people can sense, hence that level of respect that they award in return.”

See for yourself by viewing this latest addition to the city, just by the bridge outside the Cité du Vin on Quai de Bacalan!

This feature is also available as a French-language podcast! Listen to François Didier talking about Bordeaux’s fourth plan-relief here or on the podcast app of your choice (Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, etc.).

Click here if podcast player does not display properly.
And here is an action shot of me trying to keep up with François Didier! Yes, it was a windy day. Picture reproduced courtesy of UNADEV.
> Further reading: get the full story behind the city’s bronze orientation maps in the previous Invisible Bordeaux item available here. And you can revisit the Neanysa exhibition here
> Ce dossier est également disponible en français !

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