It’s always good to finally tick something off the list of things you have wanted to do for a while – last year it was finally getting to see the Fête du Citron (now to be an annual event for us) and yesterday I got round to seeing the immersive multimedia show in the Carrières de Lumières just outside the stunning village of Les-Baux-de-Provence.
The stunning Chateau of Les Baux in the village above the quarries
This has been on my list for some time, in fact for several years now, but for so many reasons I just haven’t been able to get there. Yesterday though was overcast, too windy for cycling and the lovely market at Saint Rémy was on, so I drove across to spend the morning fuddling around the market & town to be followed by a quick trip over the Alpilles to watch the show in the quarries.
Even on a grey& chilly Spring day, Saint Remy market is beautifully bustling
Each year the old quarries situated just outside Les Baux, which were in use from the 2nd Century AD until the mid 1930s, provide the setting for a spectacular son-et-lumière show based around the work of famous artists, most recently Chagall and Picasso. This year though the subject of the show is the work of Vincent Van Gogh and where could be better, as so many of his paintings depict beautifully lit images of Provence and the area around Saint Rémy, where he spent time in a hospital for the mentally ill.
The stunning landscape around Les Baux that provided such inspiration to Van Gogh
To be honest I’ve only recently really appreciated the work of Van Gogh, starting to understand the exceptional way he painted and the way he captured the sense and feel of what was in front of him, rather than just simply painting it, so I couldn’t miss the chance to see his works in a new way.
I spent a lovely morning at St Rémy discovering the new Artisan Trail in the town (more soon in another blog) and arrived at the Carrières de Lumières just after 12, parking in one of the car parks just outside, but I realised that I could just as easily have taken the short walk from the village above as there is a well-made and segregated footpath directly to the entrance.
The stark opening housing the entrance to the site
Even though I have read about the shows before and chatted to people too, nothing really prepared me for stepping through the door into the auditorium.
On walking in the first sense I had was the sheer scale of the place – I had entered during the other show that is on called ‘Japon Rêvé’ and was met by the sight of enormous fish swimming around the walls, disappearing & re-emerging in the distance, seemingly vanishing around corners. The whole floor was awash with moving lights, giving the sense of being on the ocean floor, which at first was quite disorientating. After a few moments of standing stock-still (probably rather unattractively open-mouthed) I started to get much more of a sense of the space that was being filled by this incredible sight.
The first sight of inside
The quarries are fully enclosed in this space with a slightly undulating floor that leads to a ramp at the furthest point. It isn’t a square space, it’s much more organic with sheer rock faces and enormous pillars that create the perfect screens for the lights being projected onto them. This creates an unusual space with hidden corners and open views that lead the eye to something different and new at every moment of the show.
Japanese Lanterns floating around the walls and pooling light on the floor during Japon Reve
In many ways I was pleased to have arrived during the ‘Japon Rêvé’ as it gave me a chance to understand what was happening and eventually close my mouth, as what was taking place in front of me was truly jaw-dropping, before the Vincent Van Gogh show ‘La Nuit Étoilée ‘ – ‘Starry Night’ began.
‘La Nuit Étoilée ‘ follows the life of Van Gogh through his paintings, opening with the wonderful light of Provence from Les Alpilles and Saint Rémy with the images shifting and swirling around the space in a way that left me mesmerised. It shows his early works, which are much darker and a stark contrast to the vibrant colours and light of Provence – the faces of people (long-dead) swim across the space, the detail of their stares a sign of Van Gogh’s genius.
The well worn faces of a distant past – I am sure these people would never have considered that their faces would be used in this way
Then onto Nature and his stunning paintings of flowers – with The Sunflowers rising from the floors up the huge stone pillars ….
The Irises, filling the space with an incredible depth of colour ….
The colours of the Irises filling the entire space were just stunning
And the Cherry Blossoms that eventually drift from the stems and melt into the darkness…
This doesnt do the image justice at all, but it was spectacularly beautiful
The paintings then return to Provence and the area around Arles with the light bouncing across the walls as his brushstrokes are clearly visible in the way the work has been reproduced in this show.
As expected the portrayal of ‘La Nuit Étoilée ‘ is particularly stunning with reflected light swimming on the floor of the carrieres and the movement captured by Van Gogh in paint, translating easily to actual movement of light in the work of art reproduced on the walls.
The movement and colour in this was beautiful
Then a shift again to the time Van Gogh spent at St Rémy in an attempt to find peace from his struggle with himself. The vivid colours and strong images coupled with the soundtrack of Nina Simone singing ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ was particularly powerful and without the need for words gave a strong sense of his state of mind at the time he was at the Asylum – I must admit I found this particularly moving as we know how his story ends and to see it portrayed in this way gave me a much better understanding of how his life and struggles were reflected in his work.
The show ends simply with self portraits disappearing before your eyes and Vincent’s signature in bright red across the walls, elegant and somehow very fitting.
Vanishing Van Gogh
To be honest I was quite overwhelmed by what I had seen – the scale, sense and production of the show were excellent and I had loved every minute of it.
When the lights go on it’s hard to balance the stark appearance of the roughly hewn stone with the incredible sights you have just seen
The stark, vast columns of stone left from quarrying over the centuries
Needing a little time to reflect I popped round to the Cafe in the centre of the Quarries and sat with a coffee and a rather nice slice of Apricot Clafoutis, listening to the chatter around me, before watching a film on Jean Cocteau who has strong links to the Quarries too.
The quarries cover over 7000m2 and continue outside , holding another area playing a film about Cocteau
I then headed back and re-watched the show again, just because I could – there was no time limit on the ticket and no pressure to move on or leave, which was nice. It was just as stunning second time around, in fact I think you could watch it several times, standing in different places within the auditorium and see it slightly differently each time, with only your legs tiring due to having to stand.
The immersive sense of being within the art is incredible
I left feeling very content that not only had I ‘ticked the Carrières de Lumières off my list’, but that it had been even better than I had imagined. It may have been my first visit, but it certainly won’t be my last and there’s every chance I’ll head back again this year just to see it again.
‘La Nuit Étoilée ‘ is on at The Carrières de Lumières until 5th January 2020 – it’s open 10am – 6pm March & November – January, 9.30am – 7pm April – June & September – October and 9.30am – 7.30pm in july and August with the last entry 1 hr before the site closes.
Adult entry is 13 euros , but there is a ticket that allows access to both The Carrières and the Chateau at Baux for approximately 16 euros, which would be great value if you wanted to spend a full day at the village.
More information is available on the website http://www.carrieres-lumieres.com
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