Birth of a new Digital Art Centre in Paris, the “Atelier des Lumières” – Meanderings through France n° 140
By Annick Dournes & Frederic de Poligny
The “Atelier des Lumières”, (literally the “Workshop of Lights”), opened its doors to the public on Friday, 13 April. Lets hope that being born on Friday the 13th means good luck to this totally new kind of art centre in Paris. It is the very first Parisian “museum” that proposes three dimensions digital exhibitions for a complete immersive experience. More than a mere exhibition it is a unique show, a feast for the senses mixing space, paintings and music. Its first exhibition celebrates Gustav Klimt.
The “Atelier des Lumières” is located in the 11th district of Paris halfway between La Bastille and Nation Square, at walking distance from Paris’ most famous cemetery, the Père Lachaise. The project promoter, the Culturespaces Company, found in this quiet district the ideal place for such a colossal creation. The building used to be a foundry founded in 1835 and offers an historical and industrial background as well as a lot of space with high walls that now are huge screens where paintings come to life.
In 2012 Culturespaces developed the AMIEX process (Art & Music Immersive Experience) and opened the “Carrières de Lumières”, the “Quarry of lights”, in ancient underground stone quarries located near a beautiful Provencal village, the Baux-de-Provence. It was the beginning of an ongoing success story. In 2012, 293,000 visitors came to the Baux-de-Provence to discover this unique exhibition. Many of them come back every year to see the new annual show and new ones from the whole planet join in. In 2017, 600,000 people went to this small village especially for it. The monumental exhibitions set there are specifically designed to fit these huge spaces and are made possible by the digital dematerialisation of the works of art. But, as exceptional as it might be, the digital equipment would be useless without the creativity of an Italian team gathering skilful artists with complementary talents.
That very same team created the exhibition that we can now see in Paris. Figures are impressive, the 2,000 sqm space of the old foundry now providing 3,300 sqm of projection surface, 10-metre high walls, 140 powerful laser projectors BARCO interconnected by a fibre optic network to computers and to a high quality sound diffusion system, 50 Nexo speakers with controlled directivity allow 3,000 moving images to come to life, thanks to the AMIEX process. But as soon as the show begins you will forget all its technical aspects.
This year is the hundredth anniversary of the death of Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele. To celebrate this very special year the first exhibition at the “Atelier de Lumières” is dedicated to these two major Austrian artists. At the turn of the 20th century Klimt was the undisputed leader of the Vienna Secession Movement. Either much-loved or much-hated he undoubtedly regenerated art, looking for total art, and opened the way for modern art. Egon Schiele was a friend and admirer of Gustav Klimt but definitely had his own style, both expressive and disturbing. Most of the paintings seen during the immersive exhibition are by Gustav Klimt and are briefly mixed with some of Schiele’s works. Then, a few works by Friedensreich Hundertwasser, an architect and painter born in Vienna in 1928, link the two artists to present times.
First there is silence and darkness then the walls, floor and ceiling come to life. A maelstrom of lights, colours and music begins. It captures you whole and saturates your senses. Surrounded by moving paintings that melt in one another as if dancing to the music, you drink in these new sensations and they send you into raptures. We are now familiar with sound and light shows that illuminate major monuments in many European cities, but the “Atelier de Lumières” offers a totally different experience.
There are no seats in the museum and during the whole show you can freely walk through the huge space, choose different points of view and create your own experience. The show is divided in 8 different parts that fluently follow one another synchronised with music careful chosen to enhance your experience. The images and the music are tightly intertwined and totally complementary, engulfing the audience.
First we discover young Klimt’s work to the sound of Wagner’s Tannhauser Overture, then the creation of the Vienna Secession Movement accompanied by Strauss and Beethoven, then Klimt’s golden period full of symbolism mixed with short pieces by Beethoven, Philip Glass, Luca Longobardi and Chopin. Next come his outdoor paintings and his interpretation of nature idealized by one of Gustav Mahler’s lied, then Schiele’s paintings of villages and of contorted bodies are softened by Rachmaninoff’s piano. A joyful piece from Franz Lehar’s opera “Giuditta” perfectly matches the 6th part dedicated to “Klimt and women” and another opera “Madama Butterfly” accompanies “Klimt and colour”. The show ends with a finale by Philip Glass.
A second space of the foundry has been turned into a bar like no other. Seats have been set in the middle of the room and you can turn around in your seat to watch a 360° digital projection created by an artificial intelligence. Called “Poetic-AI” this installation combines shapes, lights and sounds generated by an algorithm. This artistic work was created by OUCHHH, an award wining creative new media agency based in Istanbul. Through this installation OUCHHH makes us wonder if a computer can actually be an artist.
The “Atelier de Lumières” undoubtedly is a place like no other. It is the largest multimedia installation of the world and as in his time Klimt tended to transform arts, this innovative “museum” proposes us a new artistic experience. Don’t miss to visit it next time you go to Paris, it would really be a pity to miss such an enchanting experience.
The “Atelier de Lumières” is open seven days a week and the show is played non-stop from 10am till 6pm with a late-night opening until 10pm on Fridays and Saturdays. You can go in at any time of the day, stay as long as you like and watch the show several times in a row if you feel like it. Enjoy!
The “Atelier de Lumières” is located at 38, Saint-Maur St in the 11th district of Paris. http://www.atelier-lumieres.com/en/home
For more information about the “Carrières de lumières” in Provence and the new exhibition “Picasso and the Spanish Masters”: http://carrieres-lumieres.com/en/home
Text ©Annick Dournes
Photos ©Frederic de Poligny