AMSTERDAM, Nov 29 — The waters of the Amstel, the iconic river of the Dutch capital, always have a golden glow at night. The hotels and canal houses that lean against one another on its banks light up in all their splendour, to better shine on the hordes of tourists, perhaps.
Come winter though, and the level of lighting magic along the canals of Amsterdam get turned to the max.
For a couple of months every year, from the end of November till late January, the Amsterdam Light Festival takes place and the city becomes a LED-lit wonderland.
With more than 200 light art installations exhibited in past years, the annual Amsterdam Light Festival is a perfect opportunity for us to see one of our favourite cities in a new light, as it were.
Also, what better way than to bring some cheer to the darkest hours of the dark winter months?
The light art installations are ideal for artworks that aren’t meant to be confined within four walls but are best appreciated in public spaces.
Art is meant to be for everyone, after all. Instead of us going to the art, by planning a trip to the museum or gallery, here the art comes to us. (Though a fair bit of walking is still required to see it all.)
Boat rides and canal cruises are perhaps the fastest way to view most of the light art but nothing beats pounding the pavement ourselves, to be able to stop and enjoy the view whenever the fancy strikes us.
We walk past hundreds of light pipes, moving colours and disco lamps, and a sign that announces “Today I Love You” in neon.
The otherworldly glow of Moonburn by Dutch trio Stichting Barstow is quite a spectacle. The artists painted a large balloon with glow-in-the-dark paint. Once charged with ultraviolet light, the globe shines in a way that recalls Nature yet not quite. That sense of “not quite” is what is so rewarding about our walk of discovering light, all those different permutations of light.
We are reminded how blessed we are when viewing My Light is Your Light by visual artist Alaa Minawi. His installation of six life-sized figures made from neon tubes that tells a story of refugees.
They stand on a dock, as though they have just arrived in a new land with no promises of a better life ahead, only the escape from the troubles behind them. This is Minawi’s own story, as he himself is a Palestinian refugee living in Lebanon, his adopted home.
Every step brings us a new discovery. One minute, we are calmed by a tower of light and its steady reflection in the water; the next we are stirred by waves of light in motion, more like ocean waves than the placid surface of the canals.
Perhaps the waters aren’t always that placid or innocuous though for we spot ghostly orbs floating in parts of the canal. More innocent are the occasional flowers bobbing here and there. Truly a tulip (light) bulb, if you’d pardon the pun.
Not everything is on the water, of course. We look upwards and find ourselves surrounded by angelic halos. Circles of light in the night sky — surely these are not signs of UFOS?
One of the quirkiest light installations is an assemblage of signs by Tropism Art Collective: This Is It, Be Here Now. Sparkling and crackling, it’s a neon-powered meditation on staying present.
We could walk for hours. The most beautiful visions may well be the wonder and joy of other festival-goers whose paths intersect with ours for a second or two and then we pass.
We recognise the look on their faces; our own must be full of marvel and glee too, children once more in this time of night and light.
Amsterdam Light Festival 2017-2018
November 30, 2017 to January 21, 2018
Lighting hours: Daily, 5pm-11pm (except New Year’s Eve, 5pm-8pm only)
Location: Along the canals of Amsterdam