By Jenny Connell
With barely a moment for your eyes to adjust from the brilliance of the surrounding French countryside, a stream of giddy sightseers sweeps you into the cool darkness. Suddenly, the inky, chiseled walls around you ignite with images. Sound clamors off the white limestone, immersing you in the minds of Gauguin, Van Gogh, and Monet.
Artistic magic and old-world fortification form a perfect day trip in the French countryside.
As you walk down the gently sloped floor, visitors form tiny silhouettes along the expansive, moving canvas – quarry walls excavated by Roman hands that now teem with artistic life.
The creators of Carrières de Lumières, or the Quarry of Lights, refer to the exhibit as an art and music immersive experience. And, immersive is the perfect word for this enthralling, 40-minute journey that has drawn more than two million visitors since 2012. In stark contrast to the typical stuff y, quiet museum, this show invites oohs and ahhs from children and senior citizens alike.
Two thousand digital images are projected by 100 hidden video projectors on the smooth quarry walls, while accompanied by a musical landscape that welcomes visitors to an animated and all-encompassing artistic world. The creative use of music oscillates wildly from Vivaldi to Led Zeppelin.
The show has featured works by Gauguin, Van Gogh, Monet, Renoir, Chagall, Klimt, and Michelangelo, sometimes animating small portions of the artistic masters’ formerly still works. In other exhibits, schools of fish swirl around electric whales, or butterflies burst from the surrounding blackness to light up cavernous space. The newest show opens on March 2 and features Picasso and the Spanish Masters.
After absorbing Carrières de Lumières, a five-minute walk transports you to the tiny stone village of Les Baux-de-Provence. The charming mountain village invites visitors to ramble along its rock streets and absorb the imposing vistas at its edges.
Once the village ends, the scenery turns more rugged as tourists are greeted by the remains of the 10th century Château des Baux, which erupts from rock outcroppings. Reconstructed battering rams and giant catapults are scattered among towers that overlook olive groves. Centuries of tumult are writ along the edges of its ramparts.
One joint ticket provides entrance to both the light exhibit and castle, making for an unforgettable excursion in Provence. So, if your travels take you to Avignon to see the Palais des Papes or Arles to trace the footsteps of Van Gogh, Les Baux-de-Provence offers a fascinating day trip for any explorer.
Not able to make the jaunt to southern France this year? The creators of Carrières de Lumières, Fondation Culturespaces, plan to open a similar exhibit called L’Atelier des Lumières in an abandoned foundry in the 11th arrondissement of Paris in late spring.