It is unusual to enjoy an art gallery for its sound effect but that’s what I like about La Piscine in Roubaix. This is an art gallery housed in a converted 1930s art deco indoor swimming pool. The pool remains lit by two extraordinary sunburst windows. Lounging about the edges of the pool are a variety of sculptures and ourselves – standing in for the workers, bathers and watchers of the 1930s. The echoes of the past are ‘literally’ replayed every 30 minutes or so when the whole place is suffused with the distinctive sound of a swimming pool on a warm Sunday afternoon, splashing water, shouting children, and chattering bathers. The effect is momentary but always brings a pause and a smile to all those in the gallery. I love the way the we mingle with the sculptures surrounding the water and cannot help but smile at the unabashed 19th century municipal prurience of the mixture of grand old men and naked young women who gather together in this communal space.
The gallery is just a short tram ride out of Lille and is always a quiet pleasure. I enjoy the sculptures and paintings which are mainly 19th and 20th century and idiosyncratically provincial – designed to cultrivate the taste of the town’s workers, foremen and their wives. The collection, like La Piscine itself, comes from a time when Roubaix was a thriving provincial industrial centre for textiles. This has now faded but the buildings and warehouses bear witness to the past. It’s worth a visit if passing.