Arguably the biggest news on the Bordeaux cultural scene in this other-worldly year has been the rebirth of the city’s submarine base exhibi...

Touring the inaugural Bassins de Lumières exhibition

Arguably the biggest news on the Bordeaux cultural scene in this other-worldly year has been the rebirth of the city’s submarine base exhibition venue as a permanent digital son-et-lumière installation that embraces cutting-edge video projection mapping techniques. The news of how the eerie wartime edifice has been converted into a world-class multi-sensory experience – known as Bassins de Lumières – has travelled fast and wide, and after seeing countless Instagram posts on the subject, I really had no alternative other than to witness first-hand this latest incarnation of the place that also just happens to be the subject of the all-time most-read item on the Invisible Bordeaux blog.

Overall, four of the base’s eleven former submarine pens have been given over to the Bassins de Lumières exhibition area, which has been conceived and is managed by the Culturespaces nationwide network of museums and attractions. Work on converting the venue lasted more than two years, and while the Bassins de Lumières' official opening was delayed by the health crisis, it eventually welcomed the general public for the first time in June 2020.

There are four inaugural exhibits that run until early January 2021. The highly-anticipated headline attraction showcases the work of the legendary Austrian symbolist painter Gustav Klimt (1862-1918), as part of a lengthy audiovisual sequence conceived by immersive digital artists Gianfranco Iannuzzi, Renato Gatto and Massimiliano Siccardi, in collaboration with musician Luca Longobardi. The second main piece is an animated compilation of the art of the German-Swiss painter Paul Klee (1879-1940) set to music. Two other modern multimedia works are presented in a self-contained area known as The Cube: “Ocean Data” by Ouchhh studios, and “Anitya” by the Organ’Phantom collective.

The visitor experience involves wandering in near darkness from pen to pen, taking in the various video mapping sequences (which are played on loop throughout) from different vantage points, the colourful animations being enhanced by the reflections in the pools of water, and sometimes extending over the floor beneath one’s feet. The hundreds of projectors that are used mean that at all times visitors are either faced or surrounded by a seamless mass of images, all to the permanent soundtrack of music. And although there is a steady flow of visitors, there is never a sense that other people are getting in the way or intruding on the artwork – if anything the silhouettes of fellow punters add to the mystique of the place.

Two enclosed areas, the aforementioned Cube and the cylinder-shaped “La Citerne”, provide an unusual setting where visitors can even lie down and take in the audiovisual delights while elegantly sprawled out on cushions. Finally, a set of information panels provide the historical background behind the venue, so that visitors do not lose sight of the significance of the building and its cumbersome legacy.

Chilling out inside the Cube.

The history zone.

So, is it actually any good? Well, predictably enough Invisible Bordeaux was mightily impressed by the technology, the aesthetics, and the sheer high-grade wow factor of the world-class exhibits and their execution, although the constant darkness and the unrelenting flow of in-your-face imagery does make for a strangely impersonal experience. The quality of the sound does leave a lot to be desired in some areas of the venue, although the acoustics of the place surely do not make that sort of thing easy. As for the launch exhibits, the Klimt and Klee sequences were suitably stimulating... in a high-brow, knowingly stroke-chin-and-nod-head kind of way; while being in The Cube felt a little bit like being trapped inside a scary three-dimensional Windows 98 screensaver.

Whatever, following in the footsteps of the Cité du Vin and the Arkéa Arena concert venue both opening in recent years, this latest addition to the Bordeaux landscape is a sure sign that the city is looking to secure a durable and undisputed spot in the big league of renowned European cultural hotspots. Certainly, on the hot summer’s day I was there, the makeup of visitors was distinctly international, which is no mean feat given how so few overseas tourists have made it to Bordeaux this year.

But there is a part of me that thinks that the best is yet to come for the Bassins de Lumières, and that if some innovative, forward-looking creatives really get to grips with the venue and the possibilities that it offers, and conceive a mainstream pan-generation-friendly show that is not only technically impressive but also incorporates a touch of accessible fun, then it could truly make for something quite astonishing. And it would also give me a great excuse to go back!

> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Bassins de Lumières, Base Sous-marine, impasse Brown de Colstoun, Bordeaux
> Full practical information on the official website:
> Cet article est également disponible en français.

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