Winter in Amsterdam is particularly special when the Amsterdam Light Festival illuminates the historical canals of the Dutch city. It’s the perfect way to explore the central neighbourhoods by foot, bicycle or boat.
For it’s sixth edition, 36 artworks have been designed exclusively by international artists, designers and architects from all over the world including China, Italy, Japan and Kosovo. This year also marks the introduction of a new component: the commissions, which are lit up between 5pm and 11pm, are set to be exhibited on both water and land.
From Oosterdok to Centraal Station, 21 works have been installed on and around the canals, responding to this year’s theme of ‘Existential’. One of the most notable participants is Chinese artist and activist, Ai Weiwei, whose installation thinline (2017) creates a literal impression of a border. At 6.5 kilometres (2, 1325 foot) in length, and running through the network of canals, the work – a red light line – questions the parameters of borders, both physical and mental. Who is and isn’t allowed to cross them? Who enforces a boundary? And who has freedom of movement?
Whether you choose to create you own path or take a boat tour, you’ll encounter a variety of works that engage light in numerous ways to explore subjects from natural phenomenons to folklore. American artist, Ben Zamora’s Myth (2017) plays with our human desire to communicate with his billboard-style work that creates all manner of codified language. Kosovan artist Driton Selmani’s Eye to Eye (2017), an enlarged nazar amulet, aims to protect the city of Amsterdam from all forms of evil.
As a working port town, Amsterdam has a strong connection to the sea. Homeward Bound (2017) by Dutch artist Victor Engbers beautifully captures the phenomenon of St Elmo’s Fire that would have terrified sailors during a storm. However, the small green and blue flames also represent the lights that would signify the end of a storm and therefore represent hope.
Other artists consider human existence in relation to nature as with Nicole Banowetz’s The Life of Slime Mold (2017), which transforms a fascinating yet tiny organism into a monumental symbol of adaptable intelligence, and flows above your head on the canal walkways. And Cecil Balmond considers with Infinita (2017) the measurability of our existence as something that you can see or hidden beneath the surface.
The other 15 works form part of the first land exhibition at Marineterrein Amsterdam, the former site of the admiralty.
Japanese artist Yasuhiro Chida’s installation Brocken 6A (2017) recreates the natural light phenomenon of the mysterious Brocken spectre, which scatters light rays to form an enormous shadow or ghost of a figure.
In Lidy Six’s immersive Fields of Frequencies (2017) you can experience an ever-changing field of colour that challenges our perceptive limits and is further enhanced by Joaquin Claussell’s audio composition.
Many of the artists draw on the naval history of Marineterrein. Dutch duo Sjoerd ter Borg and Nick Verstand’s pay homage to the site with their light vessel that creates an illuminating signal composition using light Morse code. While in the windows of the former educational building, Bas Peeters’ Save Our Souls! (2017) projects a view of calm, moonlit water that is interspersed with an SOS signal from an unknown source.
Giving tangible existence to the complexity of time, Hanna Betsema’s installation Squared Time (2017) considers, ‘how can we make optimal use of time?’ According to studies people work best in 10-minute blocks so, through 144 luminous cubes, visitors can physically negotiate the amount of time that fits into one day.
In addition to the hypnotising and captivating exhibition, visitors can enjoy a daily program that explores light art. Through lectures, artists talks and interactive performances, the scope of the art form is elaborated on.
The Amsterdam Light Festival: Land exhibition is at Marineterrein Amsterdam from December 14 2017 to January 7, 2018. The water exhibition is on until January 21, 2018.