Couleurs Cezanne at les Baux de Provence by Gianfranco IannuzziIf you have visited the South of France, the chances are that you have seen one of Gianfranco Iannuzzi's unique and poetic son et lumière installations in some of Provence's loveliest settings.

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For over two decades, the Venice-born Signor Iannuzzi has been the creative force behind the Cathedral of Images (now renamed the Quarries of Lights, or Carrières de Lumières) in the huge and starkly dramatic bauxite quarries at Les Baux de Provence.

Of ever-increasing complexity, these shows, which change yearly, have explored a range of themes, often (though not always) art-based: one year Bosch and Bruegel, at other times the Sistine Chapel, the French fantasy illustrator Philippe Druillet or the cities of Alexandria and Venice.

The spectacle at Les Baux de Provence – the current one lasts around 40 minutes – gives you a total SenseSurround experience, covering the high ceilinged, 4,000 square metre / 43,000 square foot space with a kaleidoscope of colour and putting the viewer right at the centre of the art. By now the Quarries of Lights have become one of the most popular tourist attractions in Provence.

Gianfranco IannuzziElsewhere in Provence, Iannuzzi, pictured, has designed installations at Cézanne's family home, the Jas de Bouffan, and at the artist's studio in Les Lauves, on the Place d'Albertas in Aix, at the Palais des Papes in Avignon and (in Languedoc-Roussillon) at the Musée Lapidaire in Narbonne.

And in 2015 he drew on his Venetian roots for a multi-media show to accompany an exhibition of Canaletto's work at Aix's Caumont Centre d'Art.

Internationally, he has worked everywhere from Vancouver to Beirut to Tokyo. Speaking in French from his office in Paris in the spring of 2012, Iannuzzi revealed some of the secrets of his art.

He started out taking photographs as a hobby. "I taught sociology for 20 years,” he says. "But I've been passionate about images ever since my teens. And finally I decided to change my life and turn my passion into my profession."

At first he was content with exhibiting his shots. But, he says, "It always seemed a bit limiting just to print images and hang them up. I wanted to make them burst out of the frame."

Iannuzzi began experimenting with deconstructing and reconstructing photographs, and projecting them on a wall. Then in the 1980s he started building "very personal" installations in his hometown.

"One of them, called Kaleidocromia, was created with Venetian friends, a painter and a composer. It was a performance with percussion music inside a theatre which I'd completely emptied of seats and dressed in my own way.

Kaleidocromia in Venice by Gianfranco Iannuzzi"In the piazza outside (pictured) I projected images, even on the church bell-tower which was a sort of lighthouse or landmark that you could see from all over Venice.

"People were attracted by it, discovered the piazza with the images and then went into the theatre."

Iannuzzi's involvement with the Quarries of Lights began by chance in the late 1980s when he was driving from Venice to Arles to attend a workshop at the city's famous Rencontres photography festival.

Taking a detour to Les Baux de Provence, he noticed the entrance to a quarry (pictured below) on the road to the hilltop village and on an impulse went in. Inside the cavernous interior he discovered what was then the Cathedral of Images, an installation originally set up in 1975 by a French journalist and photographer, Albert Plécy. And "something clicked" with him.

Entrance to the Quarries of Lights, Les Baux de ProvenceBack then the simple show relied on a slide carousel. Even then the results were astounding. And Iannuzzi had all sorts of other ideas. He proposed a more ambitious concept - "something in between theatre and projection" - that would combine light, sound and performance (actors were originally involved, though this eventually proved to be impractical).

Today, following a two million €uro investment in new technology, the show at Les Baux has become highly sophisticated.

The sound system has been updated and 70 projectors with fibre optic cables cover every square inch in the main chamber, even the floor, with a dense carpet of images. 3,000 of them flash past in the course of a performance, sometimes as many as 50 at once.

Iannuzzi's installations in Aix en Provence have been very different. In 2002, he was invited to devise an unusual spectacle in the gardens of Cézanne's studio at Les Lauves. "It was called La Nuit des Toiles, a pun on toiles (artists' canvasses) and étoiles (stars), and was in place between 2002 and 2007. As night fell in the summer, people could go for a walk in the gardens and discover paintings by Cézanne, revisited and reworked by me.

La Nuit des Toiles in Aix en Provence by Gianfranco Iannuzzi"For one of them we built a little pool and I projected Les Baigneuses (The Bathers) behind it on a screen, pictured. People could see the painting reflected in the pool and hear the sound of the water – real water, not a recording.

"We wove a spider's web among the trees and projected images onto it, and we had tiny video screens showing flowers painted by Cézanne emerging from the earth and bursting into bloom.

"Elsewhere we projected paintings onto big pieces of cloth. On some evenings the weather was calm and the images were very sharp. At other times the Mistral was blowing, the cloth flapped in the wind and the images fragmented in all directions." Iannuzzi loved the unpredictability of the open-air location.

"After that I was asked to create a smaller, much simpler piece in the salon of the Jas de Bouffan, Cézanne's family home. The city of Aix had recently bought the house and only a small part of it was open to the public. This installation was meant to lend some interest to the visit and evoke the paintings that Cézanne created there during that period.

"It's still in place. I hope it's still being shown under good conditions because technology can give you nasty surprises if it's not well maintained! In general I prefer not to go back to my installations later because, if they're not working properly, I'm disappointed and get angry."

Invisible Bridges in Avighnon by Gianfranco IannuzziIn 2010-2011, Iannuzzi created a show, Invisible Bridges, at Avignon's Palais des Papes, pictured. It was intended to "overcome the barriers between people and build bridges over ignorance and misunderstanding."

The 2012 show in Les Baux explored the tormented relationship between Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh while the two men briefly shared a house in nearby Arles. It also examines how their discovery of Provence, with its brilliant light, transformed the work of these two artists from northern Europe.

Van Gogh hoped to create an artists' studio in the south. But Gauguin was more individualistic and didn't want to work with other people.

The 2012 Van Gogh and Gauguin show at the Quarries of Lights"These powerful personalities met during a very intense couple of months, then separated again. It wasn't really a friendship. It was a confrontation that finished in a crisis."

Another recent addition in Les Baux has been a five minute short film with a more general theme which precedes the "big feature". Both films charge yearly and run in a continuous loop which you can watch as many times as you like.

The reopening of the Les Baux quarries (which were closed for a year in 2011 due to a legal dispute) has been a roaring success, Iannuzzi says. "In fact, the technicians have told me it gets sometimes so crowded that it's hard to run the show.

"If you have over 1000 visitors a day, you might get 300-400 people there at the same time at peak periods and that's difficult to manage even if the room is very large.

"You can't hear the music nearly as well - there's always background noise because this is not intended to be like an opera where everyone listens in silence. People talk to each other, children play. It's normal and I love that. But when you have a lot of visitors at once, it can be slightly annoying."

When developing a new show, Iannuzzi and his regular collaborators, Renato Gatto, who selects the music, and video artist Massimilliano Siccardi, begin by researching the topic and fashioning it into a narrative. "It's like writing a film script," he says. Music has to be found, and the rights to it and the visual material organised.

"Some people creating son et lumière shows use music or a play as their starting point and add the images afterwards. For me the image and the space I'm going to inhabit are the starting point and all the rest comes later. What interests me most is the dialogue between them.

Installation at the Jas de Bouffan by Gianfranco Iannuzzi"The image in itself, hanging on the wall, interests me less. Whereas it's totally different if it's projected in the garden of Cézanne's house, at night, in the middle of trees, with the wind blowing, or if it's in a quarry, or a disused factory, or a church, or a square."

Pictured top left: Couleurs Cézanne, the show at Les Baux de Provence in 2006. Pictured left: Iannuzzi's Cézanne installation at the Jas de Bouffan.

"Each time, the image is transfigured by the place," Iannuzzi continues. "And the image transfigures the place in its turn. Spaces become momentarily unrecognisable when they're invaded. An ephemeral exchange happens, a sort of alchemy or magic.

"To all that you have to add the point of view of the spectator who adds something extra and reads the images as he moves through the space, each person in his own different way. And at the same time he is himself integral to the spectacle, because his own silhouette becomes part of it.

"I'm not interested in seeing my show projected in an empty space. For me, it's only completed when the space is inhabited and I see moving in front of my images the silhouette of someone who crosses, stops, watches.

"We often consume art in a passive way - television especially, but also dance, theatre and music. I love tearing people out of their armchairs.

"After I did a show on Picasso, I got a lot of mail. Many people didn't like Picasso before but afterwards they saw him in a different light. Children especially love being able to touch the images. Sometimes couples dance to the music." Pictured: an image from Iannuzzi's Picasso show at Les Baux de Provence in 2009.

Gianfranco Iannuzzi's Picasso show at Les Baux de Provence, 2009"The point is not just to exhibit the paintings. You can see those in a museum as they were created by the artist and we mustn't replace that. I aim to deconstruct the works and reconstruct them in another form."

Iannuzzi now has more commissions than he can cope with. Each show in Les Baux takes him and his team the best part of a year to prepare. "I can't do more than one or two spectacles a year in the way I work," he says. "I've chosen not to be a production house but an artist who creates his own pieces from beginning to end."

Apart from the Avignon project, Iannuzzi is working on a non site-specific installation that will move around the world and a spectacle for Sicily. And then there is always next year's show in the Quarries of Lights to think about.

 

 

Venice in Les Baux de Provence by Gianfranco IannuzziDoes Iannuzzi yearn to put on another display in his own hometown, surely the most fabulous setting imaginable?

"I have a rather special relationship with Venice. I love to go there but, since I left the city, I haven't had the opportunity or perhaps the desire to work there.

"On the other hand I've bought Venice to Provence with two shows in the quarries in Les Baux. For the one I staged there in 2007, I took a lot of the photos. I know the city very well after all, and there was no-one who could go and get the images I wanted." Pictured: one of Iannuzzi's images of his hometown from that 2007 show.

"It was a pleasure to take my camera and walk around with it, but I couldn't say I still do much photography. I'm less interested in photography as an artform. Perhaps I don't really have the time either." One thing seems certain: he has no regrets for his former life as a sociology professor. Iannuzzi laughs heartily. "Yes, you could say that."

Visit Gianfranco Iannuzzi's official website

All images ©Gianfranco Iannuzzi except the entrance to The Quarries of Lights ©Culturespaces

 

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