Amsterdam is never more luminous than in winter, which might seem something of an oxymoron were it not for Amsterdam Light Festival. A celebration of winter with art, light, and water in the heart of the Dutch capital, the festival is one of the world’s most extraordinary displays of illuminated art. Nearly one million visitors from around the world travel to Amsterdam during the festival’s eight-week run.
For this year’s fourth edition of the festival, which is based on the theme of “Friendship,” the jury received more than 350 concepts and applications from 34 countries before selecting 38 artworks from 100 finalists.
An Instagram favorite of the festival titled “Run Beyond” depicts a series of white silhouettes in motion that appear to be leaping for joy. For artist Angelo Bonello, the work is “about the power of imagination, a power so strong that it makes individuals conquer their fears and limitations.” As well, the work recalls the Dutch riddle, “If someone jumps into the ditch, do you go after him?” Bonello’s work imagines that “jump that we all have to take in our lives.”
“Tranquilles” evokes rowing, which, according to French artist Rémi Brun, is “a repetitive movement that leads to calmness.” With only 40 spots of light, the work creates an image of two people in a boat: the passenger and the rower. As Brun explains, “My work mainly consists of emptiness, which the spectator will have to fill in himself.” In regarding Brun’s work, viewers recognize that the rower calms the spectator as well.
Another festival favorite is “The Light Kite” by the collective Tijdmakers. High above the canal floats a bright yellow kite with a rainbow tail that, according to the artists, “transports the feel-good sensation of summer to winter” and takes you back “to the summers of your youth…when you had all the time in the world.”
Some of this year’s 38 works celebrate the friendship between countries, while other works examine the parameters of friendship. “Talking Heads,” a pair of spectacular heads perched atop the water, was created by Hungarian light artist Viktor Vicsek. Each head possesses 4,000 individually controlled LEDs, which enable various facial expressions in a kaleidoscope of color. Connected by Wi-Fi, the two “Talking Heads” react and respond to each other, as well as to visitors.
The elegant “Open Lounge” created by the French artist and lighting designer Géraud Périole utilizes rows of shimmering white chandeliers to create an outdoor palace ballroom with the starry winter sky as a ceiling. Inspired by the illuminated interiors of Amsterdam’s canal houses, Périole says, “By taking the atmosphere from within I hope to create an inviting space out in the open air” – where everyone is an invited guest.
Dedicated canal cruises follow the boat route Water Colors, which takes about 75 minutes and enables visitors to view the artworks closely from the water. For those who prefer strolling, a 90-minute, 3-kilometer walking tour called “Illuminade” commences at Amstel 3 and wends through the neighborhoods of Weesper and Plantage in Amsterdam East. The boat route artworks are illuminated from 5 pm to 11 pm each night, insuring that all Amsterdam evenings throughout the festival are resplendent with light. This year’s festival runs through January 17, 2016.
Reminiscent of the fairgrounds swing ride, “Merry go round Europe” is a water-jet whirligig where buckets circle and splash through the night air. Designed by a Dutch quartet, consisting of an architect, a designer, a décor builder, and an industrial designer, the work was created to “lift you out of your earthly existence” to “give you a fresh outlook.”
Founded by Amsterdam entrepreneurs and now a private foundation, Amsterdam Light Festival has partnered with festivals in Sweden and Thailand in order to offer other stages for artists to present their work. According to the festival’s founders, one of the primary goals for this year’s festival is for people from around the world to meet each other in friendship – in Amsterdam.