World’s largest digital arts centre opens in Bordeaux submarine base

The Bassins de Lumières digital arts centre in Bordeaux, France.
The Bassins de Lumières digital arts centre in Bordeaux, France. © AFP / FRANCE 24

A colossal concrete bunker that was once a submarine base for Nazi U-boats in the Second World War has been given a new lease of life as the world’s largest digital arts centre. Called Bassins de Lumières, the vast gallery in Bordeaux in the south of France will open its doors to the public this Wednesday.

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Visitors will be able to view giant digital renderings of works by famous artists set to music and projected on to the walls of the structure.

And despite the challenges of converting the base, abandoned for nearly 50 years, into a gallery, organisers say it is the perfect space for digital art.

“The space is magical. It mixes concrete, grandeur, water and reflections,” Augustin de Cointet de Filain, director of the Bassins de Lumières, told AFP.

“When we visited the space, we knew we had to work with it. We had this epiphany and knew we had to put on exhibitions here.”

The monumental structure includes four 110m-long pools crossed by walkways and space for 12,000 m² of projections, using 90 video projectors and 100km of optical fibre.

The base was built by the occupying German military in 1943 to house a flotilla of 43 U-Boats, but fell into disuse after the end of the war.

“It was inaugurated on May 13 and was used for less than two years,” said historian Mathieu Marsan.

“The space is made of 600,000 cubic metres of reinforced concrete. Destroying it would not have been economically viable.”

The centre will open with a display of work by Austrian artist Gustav Klimt and German painter Paul Klee.

“He (Gustav Klimt) is an artist who is well-suited to the vastness of this space, because his early works were these large murals and here we have walls, we have space,” Cointet de Filain.

“Klimt represented innovation in art, and we thought it was time to show that this submarine base can be innovative too.”

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