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The World’s Largest Digital Art Center Opens Inside a WWII Submarine Base in France

By Sarah Buder

Jun 22, 2020

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Les Bassins de Lumières is housed in a concrete bunker that was built in 1943 by Bordeaux’s occupying Germans.

Courtesy of Culturespaces

Les Bassins de Lumières is housed in a concrete bunker that was built in 1943 by Bordeaux’s occupying Germans.

A former bunker in Bordeaux has been transformed into a permanent exhibition space featuring digital art installations on the venue’s walls and reflected in the water of its enormous basins.

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As the hub of France’s famous fine-winemaking region and one of the few historic urban areas to be recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site, Bordeaux is already an extremely attractive destination for people with varied interests. Now that a permanent exhibition space dedicated to digital art installations has opened in a former World War II submarine base in the port city, travelers have yet another enticing reason to consider a future visit.

Les Bassins de Lumières (the Ponds of Lights) is housed in a concrete bunker that was built in the early 1940s by the German military occupying Bordeaux to store its shared submarine fleet with Italy. Originally slated to open April 17, 2020, but delayed due to France’s coronavirus lockdown, the former submarine base re-emerged on June 10 as an impressive digital art center—the world’s largest.

Inside the transformed space, visitors can walk across gangways (narrow passageways) above four 40-foot-deep basins in the former submarine base, each of which measures approximately 360 feet long—the length of a U.S. football field. Immersive digital installations take over the towering walls of the landmark building, with artworks reflecting off the water in its enormous basins, or “ponds.”

Much like at other museums and cultural sites reopening across Europe, strict hygiene and social-distancing measures will be enforced at the Bordeaux attraction, such as temperature checks at the entrance, mandatory masks for people above 11 years old, and required tickets for designated time slots, which must be booked online in advance. 

The digital installations include high-tech projection of works by influential artists such as Gustav Klimt and Paul Klee, whose creations are the focus of the opening exhibitions at the Bordeaux site.

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The mastermind behind the overhaul of this historic structure in Bordeaux is the French museum and exhibition operating studio known as Culturespaces, which also stages immersive digital exhibits devoted to installations of works by major 19th-century artists at the Atelier des Lumières in Paris. Bordeaux’s Les Bassins de Lumières similarly showcases high-tech projection of works by influential artists, but its exhibitions are displayed across a surface area five times larger than that of the digital art center in Paris. 

The opening programs at Les Bassins de Lumières focus on Gustav Klimt, the late-19th-century Viennese painter who led the Vienna Secession, and Paul Klee, a Swiss German artist and Bauhaus art institute professor who was known for his depictions of expressionism, cubism, and surrealism. Both exhibits, titled Gustav Klimt: Gold and Color and Paul Klee: Painting Music, respectively, will run through January 3, 2021. The Culturespaces team says exhibitions at Les Bassins de Lumières will rotate each year.

Within the former submarine base, large-scale projections of famous artworks reflect off the water in enormous basins, or “ponds.”

Bordeaux’s impressive digital art center also features newly constructed areas beyond the former bunker’s four submarine basins, including a 30-foot-high space dedicated to installations by up-and-coming digital artists, such as the Turkish digital creation studio, Ouchhh, and the Bordeaux collective, Organ’Phantom. The site also includes an educational museum that outlines the former submarine base’s history through archival images, film, and, fittingly, large-scale projections. 

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It isn’t hard to predict that this WWII-bunker-turned-digital-art-center will be a massive hit among travelers (once Europe’s external borders reopen to international travelers, that is). For one, Bordeaux is reachable from Paris in only two hours by train. What’s more: The exhibition space merges two increasingly popular travel trends that we personally love—mind-blowing digital art museums dedicated solely to tech-art installations, and the concept of adaptive reuse, which focuses on repurposing old structures for new operation as hotels, restaurants, or in this case, impressive spaces to display art. 

At Bordeaux’s impressive new digital art center, visitors walk across narrow passageways above four 40-foot-deep basins in the preserved WWII landmark.

Les Bassins de Lumières is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Monday through Thursday and on Sunday, and until 9 p.m., on Friday and Saturday. Admission is $16 for adults, $14 for seniors, and $13 for students and disability cardholders. Children under five enter for free.

This article originally appeared online on December 6, 2019; it was updated on June 22, 2020, to include current information.

>>Next: When Will We Be Able to Travel to Europe?

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