Cosquer’s submerged mysteries surface | Culture

Sometimes what appears to be a rough line hides far more complications than the most refined of pictorial techniques. This is what is happening with the creation of replicas of prehistoric caves so that the public can access these mysterious works of the past without jeopardizing their conservation. The workshop on the outskirts of Toulouse where the rock paintings of the submerged cave of Cosquer are reproduced, the replica of which will be inaugurated in Marseille next year, is an example of the great complexity involved in such a project, of which it does not. there are only a few of the precedents in the world, such as Lascaux, also in France, or Altamira in Spain. The raw materials used tens of thousands of years ago mix in these offices where chaos reigns under control with the latest man-made technologies. All this with a single goal: to show, and above all to feel, what his ancestor homo sapiens he saw and felt when, some 30,000 years ago, he was forced to represent his world on the walls of dark and damp caves.

Photo gallery | Painting like in the Paleolithic

Some members of his team call him a “magician”. Smiling, Gilles Tosello says he prefers to consider himself a “cave artist”. From the strong but delicate hands of this 64-year-old French graduate in graphic arts and doctor of prehistory, came out facsimiles such as the famous panel of the lions of the Chauvet cave, whose spectacular original paintings were made shortly after arrival. of the homo sapiens on the European continent, about 36,000 years ago. His new project is, if possible, even more ambitious: to reproduce, with a small team, the more than 500 paintings and engravings by Cosquer, where at least two periods were established, 33,000 and 19,000 years ago.

Tosello has been raising bison or horses for several months, as he did in Chauvet. But now he’s also faced with the challenge of acting as a ‘copyist’ of much more unusual rock representations, such as the penguins, seals, or even the jellyfish that decorate the original partially submerged Cosquer cave – the climb. water due to climate change threatens its future – and almost impossible to access, where handprints and even depictions of sex symbols have also been found.

Cosquer's submerged mysteries surface |  Culture

For Tosello, the most magical moment of a sometimes “tiring” process It is at this moment that the whole begins to “rock” and that is born what one calls the “credibility of the rock”, in which the representations made on a resin panel could be confused with the authentic ones.

And if he is only satisfied when, as happened in Chauvet, a visitor tells him that he has succeeded in transmitting the “soul” of rock painting, he assures us that to get there it is important. to “put aside the emotion”. “You don’t need to try to step into the shoes of the prehistoric painter, otherwise your imagination wins. You have to keep a certain distance to analyze everything with more reason than passion ”, warns this prehistoric enthusiast who has been attracted by“ the mystery of the eternal ”of rock art since a professor took him away. in Altamira.

If the challenge of reproducing a prehistoric cave is already enormous, in Cosquer’s case it is even more so for a reason: neither Tosello nor any of the many responsible for creating the replica – two other workshops are working on it, one in Paris. and another in the Dordogne – have never set foot in Cosquer. The cave, located in the cove La Triperie (cove), near Cassis, east of Marseille, was discovered by chance by professional diver Henri Cosquer in 1985, although it was not declared until six years later. Access is almost impossible: the entrance is 37 meters deep in the sea and to access the cave you have to go through a narrow 175-meter underwater tunnel.

Cosquer's submerged mysteries surface |  Culture

“The great difficulty in reproducing the cave is that we cannot go and see it, so we needed a model. This is why we have practically rebuilt it ”, explains Laurent Delbos, head of the Cosquer mission of the Kléber Rossillon company, in charge of the management of the Cosquer replica on behalf of the government of the Sud-Provence-Alpes-Côte region. Azure. , which co-finances the project. of 23 million euros. It is estimated that it will receive up to half a million visitors per year.

All the work is based on the 344 laser photographs taken by a team of specialists, the only ones that, since the start of the project 14 months ago, have entered the cave. From these 360-degree images, the cave was digitally reconstructed.

They will also be essential for recomposing the final work. Because the difficulties continue. Unlike Altamira or Lascaux, the building that will house the new Cosquer, Mediterranean Villa, a modern building located at the entrance of the old port of Marseille and designed by the Italian architect Stefano Boeri, it was not built around the replica, but already existed, so it was necessary to adapt the cave to the available space, not upside down. And this one is smaller than the original cave: this made it necessary to reduce the reproduction scale slightly – to 0.96-1 instead of 1-1 – and to remove about 200 original square meters . The “new” Cosquer will have 1,800 square meters, while the real one has 3,500.

In order for everything to fit together without losing an iota of authenticity, the original cave had to be virtually divided and recomposed into five rooms arranged in such a way that they fit into the basement of the Mediterranean Villa, where the visitor will move on innovative rotating platforms along a route that simulates the flooded parts of the cave. Delbos uses a graphical example to simplify an extremely complex process. “It’s as if we had to reproduce a house with a bedroom, a living room and a bathroom,” he explains. “We kept the bedroom, the living room and the bathroom, but instead of putting the bedroom next to the living room, it will be next to the bathroom, because the configuration of the building did not allow us to do it otherwise. . . “This fix will not affect the fidelity of the replica,” he stresses. “We have maintained the integrity of each piece, we go from room to room as we would in the original cave, except that the parts are not positioned relative to each other in the same way, ”he says.

Delbos and Tosello are convinced that everything will be fine and the result will be as or more spectacular than in Chauvet. “The important thing is not that it is a perfect replica, but that when you are inside, you have the impression of being in the authentic cave”, underlines Delbos. “And that they feel the same emotions” as if they were underwater in Cosquer, says Tosello. The acid test will come with the inauguration of Cosquer 2, in June 2022.

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