When it was built nearly eight decades ago, the Nazi submarine base in Bordeaux, France was meant to house 43 U-Boats, German submarines that wreaked havoc at sea during World War II. But there are no signs of submarines or war at the base today. Now, it is called Bassins de Lumières, and it is the world’s largest digital art gallery.
Bassins de Lumières opened its doors to the public in June. Officials originally planned to open the gallery in spring, but delayed their plans because of the coronavirus crisis. Bassins de Lumières is one of five major structures built in France during World War II, according to the gallery’s website. The other structures were built in Brest, Lorient, Saint-Nazaire, and La Rochelle.
The Germans began construction on the base in 1941 and relied on 6,500 volunteers, contractors, and forced laborers to complete it. The base became operational in 1943, per Al Jazeera, but was in use for less than two years. It is made of more than 21 million cubic feet of reinforced concrete.
Although the base was a frequent target of bombing raids, these did not significantly damage the building. The Germans left Bordeaux and its port in 1944.
Bassins de Lumières features four 109.73 m pools that can be crossed using walkways, according to France 24. It has space for almost 12,077 sq km of projections. To project the artwork, the gallery uses 90 video projectors and 100 km of fibre optic cable.
You may be wondering, how exactly does a digital art gallery work? Well, its name does a pretty good job of explaining it. Bassins de Lumières will project giant digital renderings of work by famous artists, set to music, onto the walls of the submarine base. Some walls in the gallery are more than 91.44 m long and 11.89 m high.
The pools are also a part of what makes the gallery special. Artwork is reflected in the pools, and contributes to the creation of an immersive experience.
Bassins de Lumières is currently featuring the works of Austrian artist Gustav Klimt, who led the Vienna Succession, or the beginning of modern art in Austria. It is also showcasing German artist Paul Klee’s colourful abstract works. The Klimt and Klee exhibitions will be running until January 2021.
In order to turn the base into a gallery, officials had to retrofit it for safety purposes. Although it was a challenge, organisers said Bassins de Lumières is the perfect space for digital art.
“The space is magical. It mixes concrete, grandeur, water and reflections,” Augustin de Cointet de Filain, the 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.”